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Walt Lloyd, ASC was raised on U.S. Army bases and didn’t have much exposure to films or television as a child. In college, I took a job at a movie theater, and films like M*A*S*H, Catch-22, Walkabout, Easy Rider and The French Connection changed my life. My future was set when I stumbled across John Boorman and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC filming Deliverance in the North Georgia mountains. I vowed that someday, somehow, I would work on films. “I moved to California, started reading American Cinematographer and got a job at a commercial production house in San Francisco. AC has been a welcome arrival every month since then. In these days of rapidly changing technology, it is both reassuring and informative to observe how my colleagues are making the creative and technical choices all projects require. ASC members are collaborative and supportive, and AC is our outlet for sharing experience and knowledge.”
©photo by Owen Roizman, ASC
— Walt Lloyd, ASC
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On Our Cover: Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the magical world of her childhood adventure in Alice in Wonderland, shot by Dariusz Wolski, ASC. (Photo by Leah Gallo, courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)
FEATURES 32 48 60 72
Down the Rabbit Hole Dariusz Wolski, ASC crafts whimsical images for Alice in Wonderland
Weapons of Deception Barry Ackroyd, BSC takes aim on Green Zone
The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions James Neihouse trains astronauts to shoot in Imax for Hubble 3-D
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes This year’s artful indies employed a variety of formats 60
DEPARTMENTS 8 10 12 14 20 88 92 98 100 100 102 104
Editor’s Note President’s Desk Letters Short Takes: The History of Aviation 72 Production Slate: Lebanon • Brooklyn’s Finest Filmmakers’ Forum: Michael Goi, ASC and Jeff Okun, VES New Products & Services International Marketplace Classified Ads Ad Index Clubhouse News ASC Close-Up: Rene Ohashi
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www.theasc.com ———————————————————————————————————— PUBLISHER Martha Winterhalter ————————————————————————————————————
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American Society of Cinematographers The ASC is not a labor union or a guild, but an educational, cultural and professional organization. Membership is by invitation to those who are actively engaged as directors of photography and have demonstrated outstanding ability. ASC membership has become one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a professional cinematographer — a mark of prestige and excellence.
OFFICERS - 2009/2010 Michael Goi President
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Hollywood’s infatuation with 3-D continues to pick up steam with the release of Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton’s reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Teaming once again with Dariusz Wolski, ASC, Burton has put a new twist on the story, making Alice a teenager (played by Mia Wasikowska) who revisits the wondrous realm she first stumbled upon as a child. Various factors led the filmmakers to shoot the picture in 2-D and then convert the images to 3-D at Sony Pictures Imageworks. Through testing, they determined that their schedule wouldn’t allow them to set up the infrastructure needed to shoot high-end native stereo. “We studied examples of 2-D movies that had been turned into 3-D and agreed the results looked amazing,” Wolski tells writer Michael Goldman (“Down the Rabbit Hole,” page 32). “So, at the last minute, we decided to achieve 3-D in post.” Native 3-D was employed on the Imax/Warner Bros. outer-space documentary Hubble 3-D. Director of photography James Neihouse was tasked with training a group of space-shuttle astronauts to capture spectacular images during NASA’s final repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The production’s technical and logistical challenges were immense. “NASA gives us about 25 hours of face-to-face time with the astronauts to train them in basic shot selection and exposure and advise them on what to do if things go wrong,” Neihouse tells longtime contributor Jay Holben (“The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions,” page 60). “Fortunately, astronauts are incredibly smart people and really quick studies.” Back in the 2-D world, Barry Ackroyd, BSC and director Paul Greengrass seek to set pulses racing with Green Zone, a thriller about a U.S. Army officer (Matt Damon) attempting to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Ackroyd previously gave audiences white-knuckle rides with The Hurt Locker and Greengrass’ United 93; on this project, the filmmakers did quite a bit on the fly, using handheld cameras and dynamic moves to immerse viewers in the tense situations depicted onscreen. In his chat with London correspondent Mark Hope-Jones (“Weapons of Deception,” page 48), Ackroyd concedes, “I’d love to be able to say that we sat down and planned a look for the film, but that’s not Paul’s approach, and it’s not necessarily mine, either. If I said we talked about it for more than two hours over the course of the whole shoot, then I might well be exaggerating!” Our annual roundup of visually outstanding films from the Sundance Film Festival (“Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes,” page 72) offers insights from cinematographers Zak Mulligan (Obselidia), Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson (The Oath), Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough (His & Hers), Paul de Lumen (Southern District) and the trio of Toby Oliver, ACS; Kathryn Milliss; and Paul Nichola, who shot the first Sundance feature screened in 3-D (Cane Toads: The Conquest 3-D). Given the diversity of formats covered in this issue, it’s safe to say that cinematographers at all levels are actively exploring every available imaging option.
Stephen Pizzello Executive Editor 8
Photo by Owen Roizman, ASC.
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President’s Desk The release of Avatar has sparked a lot of discussion regarding cinematography and its relationship to computer-generated images. With the advent of more sophisticated virtual-production capabilities, where does the knowledge of how to evoke mood and tell stories in a visual manner take our profession? I think the answer is in the elements that have comprised our job from the very beginning. A visual story requires artists who are versed in the subtleties that affect human emotion. These artists are not mere button pushers — in fact, they may best leave the actual pushing of buttons to someone else — but visionary minds who see the world differently. That they do so with impeccable taste and an almost uncanny ability to do exactly the right thing at the right moment is what makes them great. A CGI artist recently told me about a large-scale production he worked on that used a great deal of CG material and proportionally less “live” filmed footage. Eager to please his producers and make an impact, this artist undertook in his previs conceptual footage to incorporate the “look” he thought the movie should have, based on his interpretation of the script. He built in dazzling camera moves and eye-popping color effects. He created whip-pans to emphasize the rapid-fire line delivery of the voice actors. And he used his arsenal of computer effects to create incredible lighting that was more perfect than what could ever have been achieved in real life. He created all this as a blueprint for the rest of production to follow; the cinematographer, the art director and the editor were to make their work match his. As the prep went forward and personnel in the various crafts were brought onboard, the CGI artist was continually confronted with opinions that differed considerably from his own. The cinematographer did not like the steely-blue patina of the overall look because he intended to light the live-action sequences with a chocolate filter so the brown tones could serve as an extension of the character’s past. The dazzling camera moves were swept away in favor of a simple composition that kept the two lead characters in the same frame so the human quality of their interaction would be retained. And the perfect lighting was altered to be less perfect; in that subtle alteration, it somehow became more human. All through this process, the CGI artist made updates to his work to reflect the opinions of the other experienced craftspeople the production had brought aboard. And what he found was a revelation: that the collective input of artists who were the best at what they did translated, through him, into the new medium in a way that made all the work better. He found his own contributions were better because he was working with the best, and the other artists continually challenged his expectations with their own original artistic vision. The resultant movie was the best culmination of all these disciplines. Visual storytelling is a collaborative art. It always has been. Only the tools are changing. As cinematographers move forward through this brave new world, it is our voice that a beleaguered and confused industry will need to hear. It is our knowledge of what these new technologies are capable of which producers will rely on for budgeting and scheduling. And it is our unflappable, unerring knack for doing what is instinctively right for the material that will be needed. It is what we have always done since the beginning of motion pictures. So I don’t buy into all this panic about the death of traditional cinematography. The history of the art form is paved with technological innovations that revolutionized the way we create images. If you’ve ever looked at the inner workings of a three-strip Technicolor camera, you know what I mean — it’s a marvel of engineering that necessitated more marvels of engineering to effectively harness its potential. Look at the evolution of 3-D from the late 1800s to today. Think about when you first used a power window in a color-correction suite to isolate a section of the picture. My vision of what a scene looks and feels like exists in a form that is infinitely adaptable to any medium that might arise; it is the product of my imagination coupled with my knowledge of the various technologies that could be used to realize it, whether it be a tungsten lighting kit or a super-computer. I will continue to choose the right tools for the job because it is what I do.
Michael Goi, ASC President
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Letters Christopher Probst’s recent article on the Red One (“Working With the Red,” Feb. ’10, page 56) generated a great deal of reader response, both pro and con. Because of space limitations, we are publishing a representative sample of that correspondence. Wise Words on the Red Thank you so much for Christopher Probst’s article “Working With the Red.” The technical info was presented clearly and concisely, and one doesn’t need to be an engineer to understand it. I hope some ad agencies and indie-film producers will read it and begin to get the drift of what many cinematographers have known from the time the Red was introduced: while the camera is capable of making incredibly good-looking images, it still has some “issues.” As long as you understand how the camera “sees” and can increase the time allotted for post, it can be a wonderful tool. Unfortunately, too many people, especially in some of the mid-level markets, think of it as a low-budget tool and don’t allow enough time or post money to use it to its best advantage. Lou Chanatry, SOC Nashville, Tenn. Red-Letter Day Christopher Probst’s article “Working with the Red” was fantastic. The article was well written and had great depth, wonderful information and an honest artistic and technical point of view. I hope the editors will publish more articles by Mr. Probst about other digital cameras. Bruce Block Los Angeles, Calif.
A Dissenting View I am a musician who has just started directing live concert and music videos, and when I saw your February issue, I thought, “Great. The ASC is finally going to give us an article on how experienced cinematographers get the best out of the Red One.” Instead, I got Christopher Probst trashing the Red with the usual film-snob red herrings. If the camera is so bad, why has he used it on more than 50 music videos? At our best local film school, Sheridan College, all of the final projects were shot with the Red by choice. I really wish the ASC would get their heads out of the sand and write about the aesthetic, artistic and workflow strengths of using the Red. Commentary like Mr. Probst’s just makes the magazine and the ASC look like dinosaurs trundling between two glaciers. Colin Mendez Morris Toronto, Canada The Editor replies: We asked Chris, our longtime technical editor, to write the article because we were fielding numerous requests from readers for a “how to” piece about the Red. The goal was to provide useful information to those with little or no experience with the camera. As Chris noted, his assessment was based on his own experiences with the Red in the field. His observations do not represent the collective opinion of the ASC, nor were they presented as such. Letters must include your name, mailing address and daytime telephone number. Address correspondence to: Editor, American Cinematographer, P.O. Box 2230, Los Angeles, CA, 90078. AC reserves the right to edit submissions for length and clarity.
An Anamorphic History of Aviation By Iain Stasukevich
At first, it seems as though The History of Aviation has nothing to do with aeronautics. Shot by Mátyás Erdély and directed by fellow Hungarian Bálint Kenyeres, the short film opens with a scene of men in pressed knickers and women in fancy dresses spread out across the grassy clifftops of Upper Normandy. They’re searching for something. Beneath a gray sky, a frantic mother cries out for her lost daughter over the sound of crashing waves. As other party guests join in the search (or steal away to secluded coves for a little romance), the girl becomes the sole witness to a tragic experiment. The History of Aviation is the second collaboration between Kenyeres and Erdély, following Before Dawn (AC April ’06). As with their first film, the goal on The History of Aviation was “to aim for the unimaginable,” says Erdély. “We wanted to shoot 35mm anamorphic and get big cranes, costumes and locations.” He and 14
Kenyeres wanted floating, dreamlike camera moves to tell the story, letting it unfold in long, sweeping takes. The film runs about 17 minutes and comprises 13 shots, all filled with zooms, pans and tilts, and sweeping moves. Setting the camera aloft required a tight camera crew and a solid game plan. Erdély singles out Hungarian dolly grip János Tóth and 1st AC Gergely Csepregi for their contributions: “János is very experienced and can pull off super-complicated moves and long setups, and Gergely’s focus is always dead on.” Because of the complicated setups, Kenyeres and Erdély took the time to sit down with key crew members, including French key grip Bertrand Val, to go over storyboards in advance. The filmmakers broke down each long take into smaller sections and, with Tóth’s help, reassembled them with the proper camera blocking. “We already knew what was possible given the limitations of our equipment,” says Erdély. “Getting organized was an organic process and didn’t involve too much talking. I’d just position myself where the lens was supposed
Images courtesy of the filmmakers.
Above: A mother searches frantically for her missing daughter at the beginning of the short film The History of Aviation. Right: A picnicker joins the search for the missing girl.
Top to bottom: As the search progresses toward the shoreline, two lovers steal away for a bit of romance; an empty rowboat is found offshore; fearing her daughter fell out of the boat and drowned, the mother collapses; the missing girl, alive and well, wanders a secluded cliff.
to be, and we’d go from there.” The movie was designed around the use of one lens, a 48-550mm (T4.5) 11:1 Panavision Primo anamorphic zoom, but securing the glass proved to be a difficult task. After attempting a rental through Sparks Lighting Ltd. in Hungary and Panavision offices in Budapest, London and Paris, Erdély turned to Phil Radin at Panavision in Woodland Hills, Calif. (The two became acquainted when Erdély attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.) Within hours of the request, a lens was secured. “We were just blown away,” Erdély recalls. “If Phil hadn’t helped us, we couldn’t have done the film.” Weeks later, his camera and his lens were sweeping above the Upper Normandy coast. Erdély spent the better part of the four days of principal photography atop the platform of a 23'-tall crane, operating a PanArri 435 with a Pan Bar fluid head while Csepregi pulled focus remotely from the ground. To achieve a naturalistic period look, Erdély shot on Kodak Vision2 250D 5205 and kept a ½ Tiffen Fog Filter on the lens throughout the shoot. He and Kenyeres also credit costume designer Györgyi Szakács for her immeasurable contributions to the film. “Without Györgyi’s vintage early-20th-century collection of clothes and accessories, we would never have achieved these kinds of visuals,” says Kenyeres. One shot in particular required just as much preparation and work to achieve as the rest of the film put together. The girl, wandering as bored youngsters sometimes do, finds herself alone atop a hidden promontory overlooking the ocean. The shot starts with a wide shot framing the water, the promontory and the girl, with rocky cliffs looming in the distance. The camera begins a slow push forward, over the girl’s shoulder, zooming far into the background to find the tiny speck of a prop plane perched above the drop. An even tinier speck, the pilot, scurries around the aircraft, making final preparations. Over the howling of the wind, the girl hears the plane’s engine starting. The aircraft taxis out of sight, then reappears a moment later, speeding toward the empty space beyond the cliff’s edge. The camera follows the plane as it drops, alights on a gust of wind, banks, dips and then plunges into
Clockwise from above: The girl studies a distant cliff where an aviator is about to attempt a doomed flight; cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (on crane) and 1st AC Gergely Csepregi prepare a crane shot; (left to right) director Bálint Kenyeres, dolly grip János Tóth, Erdély and Csepregi ready a dolly move near the water.
the sea. The shot lingers on that frame for a moment before slowly zooming out and swinging back around, ending with a closeup of the girl. “We spent months planning that shot, and it was so stressful and scary that we did it first to get it out of the way,” Erdély recalls. “We previsualized 20 versions of it with our visual-effects supervisor, Máté Birkás, using our location-scout photos and Google Earth to build a 3-D model of the location, along with the lens and crane. It’s the most expensive shot I’ve ever done!” The location for the shot was only accessible by a tiny, rocky path about 200 steps from the beach, making it extremely difficult to transport equipment, particularly the 650-pound Super Scorpio Telescoping Crane. At first, some crewmembers joked about needing a helicopter, but as time went on, it became clear that they would, in fact, need one. The crane was disassembled, strapped into a custom18
made harness and flown to the location. Another unique aspect of the shot is the airplane, a CG element added by visual-effects artists at Buf in France. Erdély had to follow the plane’s movements while there was nothing actually there. “I didn’t know how I was going to work the timing of the plane’s flight,” he says, “so I took an old video mixer and ran the live feed from the camera’s video tap and the previs animatics into a single monitor so that Christophe Moreau, one of our effects supervisors at Buf, could call out a verbal description of the scene for me.” To counteract the heavy winds and smooth out the camera’s movement while shooting at the long end of the lens, Erdély had the camera mounted to a three-axis Stabilized Scorpio head. “But there were serious issues with the gyro — it wouldn’t adjust with the horizon,” recalls Kenyeres. “We were losing time and light, so we decided to split that one shot into two. We split it right before the crash, while we were still American Cinematographer
on the blue sky.” Some additional stabilization work was done in post at Buf. The negative was processed at Scanlab in Paris, and the 4K digital intermediate was carried out at Hungarian Film Lab. “We spent a lot of time in the DI, exploring the negative,” explains Erdély. “There were so many directions we could take it in that I wasn’t sure where to start. The more we explored, the more we felt we should go back to a very raw image, like when you scan the image and it’s washed out and milky. We wanted to create a look that was natural and organic, and tried to stay away from everything that’s polished and trendy, so we fine-tuned the raw image to make it as pristine as possible but didn’t add anything to it.” He retained the full 2.40:1 frame in the video master. He notes, “When I do photography, I believe in the Henri CartierBresson style: once you take a picture, that’s it. You don’t crop it. I took that to the extreme and used the entire negative.” ●
Camerimage’s Golden Lebanon By Benjamin B
Sitting in a hotel room in Lodz, Poland, cinematographer Giora Bejach recalls how director Samuel Maoz prepared his actors in Israel before starting production on Lebanon. “He put them inside a shipping container and closed the doors. Inside it was something like 45°C [113°F]. They didn’t know how long they would be in there. It was dark; they couldn’t see anything. They had no water, nothing, for one hour. Then, in the last five minutes, Samuel started to throw sticks and stones at the container. You know, that makes a hell of a lot of noise!” Bejach laughs. “When he let them out, they were ready for their close-ups! But it was amazing to see their faces.” Lebanon, which takes place entirely inside a tank during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, won the prestigious Golden Frog at the 2009 Plus Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography. The film’s main characters are the four young men who make up the tank crew, none of whom has ever experienced combat. The film is limited to their point of view; the outside world is seen only through the binocular viewfinder operated by the gunner, Shmulik (Yoav Donat). Over the course of their first 24 hours in Lebanon, these callow recruits are transformed by the violence they witness and partake in, and by their memorable encounters with enemy combatants and innocent civilians. Lebanon is a war film without any heroes. It depicts a conflict 20
full of confusion, punctuated by sudden acts of violence. To illustrate the impact of combat, the tone of the film shifts from brutal realism to a moment of surreal madness, and finally, when the young men have lost all innocence, the film concludes with a simple act of humanity. Maoz, who met with AC in Paris after Camerimage, reveals that the film is based on his own experiences as a tank gunner, events that have haunted him for more than 20 years. He does not mince words: “I can say that the acts the war forced me to do ruined my life.” He says he had a “need” to tell his story, but that “it was a matter of how to tell it. The story in my film is not the plot. The plot is something very basic. Let’s say the events are the symptoms, not the issue. The issue is the bleeding soul, what happens inside a soldier during a war. I couldn’t tell this kind of story in a classic cinematic structure. How the hell can you tell a story about what’s happening inside a soul? It’s an emotional understanding, something you can understand through the stomach, through the heart. To achieve such an understanding, you must create a very strong experience.” Maoz’s goal was to confine viewers in the tank with the characters, and make them partake in the confusion and cabin fever of four young men experiencing the horror of war for the first time. “You see only what they see,” he notes. “You know only what they know.” Bejach credits his director for taking the actors and the audience “on an incredible journey.” He recalls that Maoz gave him a
Lebanon photos by Itel Zion, courtesy of Giora Bejach. Movie stills courtesy of CTV International.
A soldier peers into a tank in Lebanon, the recipient of the Golden Frog at the 2009 Plus Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography. Directed by Samuel Maoz and shot by Giora Bejach, the film is set entirely inside the tank. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in the U.S. later this year.
Clockwise from top left: Bejach used green and yellow gels to give the tank interior a green tinge; built on a soundstage, the tank interior comprised eight modular sections that could be separated to accommodate camera placement; a 6K HMI was bounced into a mirror to create a shaft of blinding “daylight” through the tank’s hatch.
visual direction with a few words at one of their first meetings about the project: “He said, ‘Please make it bleeding to black.’ From there, everything was very easy.” For Bejach, the first step was to work with production designer Ariel Roshko to create a somber tank interior. “The inside of real tanks are white because you need light in there, but we went with dark brown. There are two scenes in the tank when you see red blood, and you can’t miss it.” The tank was built by combining eight modular constructions on a soundstage, and it could be split apart to arrange for different viewpoints. Maoz also told Bejach that he wanted the tank interior to have a green tinge. “We could have achieved that in post, but I preferred to do it with the lighting, so we did it with yellow and green gels,” says the cinematographer. “We changed them from time to time, only because I wanted to give each lighting setup a slightly different look. I didn’t want it all to look the same.” 22
Bejach created variety in the dark tank interior with a few small practicals and gels, and by providing brief glimpses of the world outside. Day and night inside the tank are evoked by the presence or absence of glowing bright light spilling in through small openings. To light the interior, Bejach wanted sources that fell off quickly, without being too soft. “I didn’t want to use soft lights because they don’t describe the situation. They’re gentle, and the situation is not gentle. But I don’t like hard lights, so I decided to use an old light, the Zip light. That was the main source inside the tank.” The Zip light is an old-fashioned fixture with a 1K or 2K bulb aimed at a builtin, curved, reflective surface. Inside the tank, “it gave us the right feeling,” says Bejach. “If you move a bit too far from the lamp, it starts to be hard, and if you come closer, it gets softer. It falls off quickly, so it won’t hit the walls, which was very good, because we had no way to cut the light in there.” Sometimes Bejach also bounced 650-watt Tweenies off reflectors with wrinAmerican Cinematographer
kled silver foil to add “a metallic feeling” to diffused light on the actors. He sometimes used this bounce with a small source to create fill for day interiors, and at other times he used the silver foil by itself for fill on dark interiors. To create the sensation of daylight outside, Bejach hung Nine-light Maxi-Brutes with narrow-beam bulbs (through ¼ White diffusion) and aimed them down at the tank set. For a scene in which a corpse is brought into the tank, Bejach pointed a 6K HMI on the ground up at a mirror above the tank’s open hatch, creating a blinding downward shaft of light, which he defined with a smoke machine. Smoke is also an important component of battle scenes seen through the tank’s periscope; these were shot as day exteriors. Bejach added burning tires and smoke machines to generate “a hell of a lot” of thick, dark smoke that helped to lower the contrast of the strong Israeli sunlight and create the feeling of a war zone. ➣
Near right, top and bottom: The world outside the tank is seen only through the tank’s periscope. Far right: Bejach finds his frame as 1st AC Ido Ben-Cna’an keeps the action in focus.
In a surreal nighttime moment, the tank crew finds itself in a big, amorphous space where they hear eerie accordion music. For this scene, Bejach used a Dino to create a soft moonlight, adding ¼ Blue, 1⁄8 Green and 1⁄8 White diffusion. He complemented this with a handful of smaller lights gelled in a similar fashion. One of the main challenges for Bejach was his mélange of film and digital formats. The filmmakers shot two-thirds of the movie on Super 16mm, using an Arri 16SR-3 Evolution. They then went on hiatus for almost a year to raise more money, and production resumed with a Red One digital camera (Build 16). Bejach notes that the Red was chosen mostly to avoid the delay involved in getting film footage to and from the lab, Geyer Cologne in Germany. “It could take two weeks!” he recalls. “Money was not the issue; it was time. In the end, digital costs about the same as film, but what you save is time.” Bejach used the same lenses, Zeiss Ultra Primes, often close to the actors, with both the film and digital cameras. He most often used the 24mm. The cramped tank interior did not allow for true wide shots. 24
“We changed the language [of film grammar] completely — a medium became a long shot, a close-up became a medium shot, and an extreme close-up became a close-up,” he says. Although there is little traditional camera movement in the film, the camera was often on a Scorpio head. To simulate the tank’s movement, the entire set was tilted and shaken by grips, and sometimes the camera was also shaken for good measure. Bejach laughs, “This was a lowtech movie!” He explains that the shaking motion and close-up framing help to create an “uncomfortable” feeling. “When you show things in very tight shots, you lose reference for where you are, and then everything gets scary. You add the lighting and the actors’ expressions, and it all comes together — it works.” Though many cinematographers mix digital and film to create different looks, Bejach used the Red to shoot missing portions of scenes shot on 16mm, often shooting digital close-ups designed to be inserted seamlessly into scenes shot in film. When going back to shoot a matching scene with the Red, he says, he used the American Cinematographer
same number of lights, but with less contrast. For example, if he used a 650watt bounce fill in the film version of a scene, he would use a 1K bounce fill with the Red. He thus created an image with less latitude when shooting with the Red, about 11⁄2 stops above and 41⁄2 stops below. However, he would go as much 5 stops above when he wanted white light, as in the scene in which the soldiers look up as they hear jets overhead. “If you want to burn something with the Red, if you want a nice white, you should use a lot of light,” he remarks. Bejach credits Geyer Cologne colorist Andreas Fröhlich for doing an “unbelievable” job blending the film and digital footage together in the digital intermediate, which was carried out at 2K. “I sent just a few samples of how I wanted it to look,” says Bejach. “Andreas degrained the Super 16 a bit and added some grain to the Red material.” The color correction and degraining were done with a Digital Vision Nucoda Film Master. Maoz is thoughtful as he considers the self-imposed limitations of shooting a film in a cramped space with just one opening to the outside world. “One of the important things I learned is that limits are a kind of blessing,” he says. “If you don’t have room to move right or left, you can only dig deeper.”
TECHNICAL SPECS 1.85:1 Super 16mm and Digital Capture Arri 16SR-3 Evolution; Red One Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses Kodak Vision2 200T 7217 Printed on Kodak Vision 2383
Police Under Pressure By Jean Oppenheimer
Late one evening, a week before production commenced on his first American feature, Mexican cinematographer Patrick Murguia, AMC, and his gaffer, Jay Fortune, showed up at the Van Dyke housing project in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. The site was to be a key location in Brooklyn’s Finest, and Murguia wanted to “feel out” the place at night and measure how much available light was created by the practical streetlamps. As he stepped out of the van, an unmarked patrol car drove up, and two police officers got out. They approached slowly, their hands hovering above their holsters, their eyes darting uneasily between Murguia’s face and the 26
bulging leather case — which contained his spot meter — at his side. “It was very tense,” recalls Murguia. “I couldn’t really [whip] out my light meter to show them that it wasn’t a gun.” Fortunately, unlike the cops in Brooklyn’s Finest, who shoot first and ask questions later, these officers were cautious but not impetuous. Murguia and Fortune checked out the location and left. “It’s amazing how [Kodak Vision3 500T] 5219 can see into the darkness,” marvels Murguia, who notes that more than half of Brooklyn’s Finest takes place at night or in dark interiors. He estimates that just over half of the picture was shot with the lens wide open. Brooklyn’s Finest follows three police officers, each facing a personal crisis, whose paths cross late in the story. Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a narcotics officer so desperate to American Cinematographer
Brooklyn’s Finest photos by Phillip V. Caruso, courtesy of Overture Films.
Above: Troubled cops Eddie (Richard Gere, left) and Sal (Ethan Hawke) study a wall of suspects in Brooklyn’s Finest, shot by Patrick Murguia, AMC. Right: Undercover officer Tango (Don Cheadle, right) infiltrates a drug-dealing ring headed by his longtime friend Caz (Wesley Snipes).
buy a house for his wife and kids that he robs the drug dealers he kills. Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover cop who is starting to have divided loyalties. Eddie (Richard Gere) is just marking time until he retires. As the line between right and wrong blurs, each struggles with his conscience. One of the first things director Antoine Fuqua and Murguia agreed on was that they didn’t want Brooklyn’s Finest to be a handheld movie; they preferred a classical approach, with the camera serving as an observer. Furthermore, they wanted the city to be a suffocating presence. “When you live in a city like New York, you don’t see the sky,” notes Murguia, who recently moved to Los Angeles from Mexico City. “There are walls everywhere. Buildings block the sky. You almost feel that you can’t breathe.” Fuqua was initially interested in shooting anamorphic, but he and Murguia eventually decided that spherical lenses would suit the film’s themes better. “With spherical lenses, the context surrounding the characters is a little more present,” says Murguia. “Anamorphic tends to isolate the characters from the background, and that definitely didn’t suit this storyline because we wanted to integrate the city as a character. We chose Super 35 because we felt the very horizontal format would accentuate the feeling of urban claustrophobia.” In the end, however, the filmmakers did decide to use anamorphic for three specific images: the final shots of each of the main characters, shots that had to stand apart visually from the rest of the picture. The main cameras, provided by Arri CSC, were Arricam Lites and an Arri 435, and Murguia chose Arri Master Primes and two Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses, a 24290mm and a 17-80mm. For the three anamorphic shots, he used a Panaflex Platinum and Panavision Primo anamorphic prime lenses, supplied by Panavision New York. A graduate of Mexico’s prestigious Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, Murguia frequently draws inspiration from still photography. His main reference for Brooklyn’s Finest was the early work of Nan Goldin, but he also studied police crime photos and selected some of the grittiest work of Magnum photojournalists. “The intimacy Nan Goldin achieves is amazing,”
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Above: Suffering a crisis of conscience after his retirement, Eddie attempts to save a lost soul. Right: To provide for his family, Sal begins stealing money discovered during drug raids.
he says. “A lot of her photos were made without a flash, so you see the real atmosphere of the places. On this film, I always tried to lead with practical and available light.” A good example of this approach is the film’s opening scene. It’s just past dusk, and the camera (on a Technocrane) looks at the Manhattan skyline in the distance. The camera slowly booms right, across a cemetery, and stops on a wide shot of a car parked on a desolate road next to the graveyard. The back of the car faces the camera. Dialogue is audible, but we can’t see who’s in the car. The only light comes from a streetlamp located several hundred yards in front of the car. In keeping with his available-light philosophy, Murguia wanted to create the illusion that all of the light in the scene was coming from this one source. In this case, his crew removed the bulb in the practical and hung a 2K open-faced Blonde behind it. “You tip it back just enough so that the spill glows the glass and makes it look as if the streetlamp is on,” explains Fortune. 28
“We put Lee 232 on the 2K to match the sodium-vapor look of the original bulb. If you put 232 on a tungsten source, it will match sodium-vapor to a T — without the green.” Strings of bare household bulbs, all wired to a dimmer, were placed behind the car to create reflections on the vehicle and keep it from disappearing in the dark. A 10K was hidden behind a Dumpster located halfway between the car and the streetlight, and Murguia’s crew moved a 12'x12' frame of Ultra Bounce around the vehicle to bounce light inside — Murguia didn’t want lights in the car when the camera moved in for coverage. Behind the car, farther down the road, was a 10K that raked light across the fence separating the road from the cemetery. With the exception of the household bulbs, every fixture was gelled with Lee 232. The camera moves in to reveal Sal in the front seat with a small-time crook. Sal shoots his companion, steals his money and jumps out of the car. As he runs down the road, he casts an enormous shadow on the American Cinematographer
fence and cemetery. To achieve this expressionistic effect, Fortune positioned a 10K some 50' behind the car and took the lens out so it would cast a hard shadow. It was a very humid night, perfect for an atmospheric, backlit scene. When the three policemen’s paths finally converge, in the last 45 minutes of the film, they do so at the housing project in a complex web of sequences. It begins with Sal pulling up in his car late at night. With a wide Steadicam shot, Acamera/Steadicam operator Mike O’Shea follows Sal as he climbs out of the car and walks under the elevated train tracks. (Astute viewers will notice Eddie’s car down the street, following a van.) The Steadicam, maintaining the wide shot, moves to Sal’s side as he walks past Tango, who is exiting his own car. (The two men don’t know each other.) As Sal heads towards one building, the camera leaves him and starts tracking backward in front of Tango, who is heading toward a different building. Murguia picks up the story: “The camera starts to pan with Tango, and as it does, we see a young man sitting in front of the building. We stay with the kid as Tango walks into the building. We cut to the kid’s POV as he watches Sal enter the other building.” To light this long Steadicam move, Murguia relied on the existing light cast by the streetlamps and hid a 2K open-faced Blonde behind one pole. The spill from the Blonde covered a wide area and served as the key light. According to Fortune, this ambient light was boosted by several other fixtures: a 5K on a 40' Condor beside the el tracks provided sidelight and backlight; a couple of 10Ks were positioned on the ground six blocks away, underneath the el; and a Dino and a 20K were positioned on a 125' Condor hidden behind a nearby high-rise. All of these fixtures were gelled with Lee 232 for a sodium-vapor feel. After Tango enters the building, we cut back to Sal and follow him into an apartment, where he murders two criminals. Upon entering the kitchen, he hears something, turns around and shoots a third man. Then the camera stops and observes as Sal tears the place apart, looking for money. “He goes in and out of frame, but the camera remains stationary,” says
Tango confronts a gang member on a fateful night for all three officers.
Murguia. “It’s a completely different feeling than following him.” When Sal finds the money and starts stuffing it into his pockets, he is shot in the back. The camera jumps to a frontal view, and Sal looks down at his chest, where blood is spreading on his shirt. As he falls, we see the shooter in the doorway. At this point, Murguia switched to anamorphic. “We wanted a shallow depth-of-field as we look down at Sal on the floor, because we
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wanted to focus only on his face,” says the cinematographer. “As he dies, we slowly boom down, and a practical lamp on the other side of him creates this beautiful flare in the anamorphic lens. It’s as though he has this moment of clarity as his life slips away. The anamorphic lens helps put you inside his head.” After Sal dies, the action cuts back to Tango in the other building. He kills one man and follows a wounded man, Red, out
and into the street. (This is the same area where Tango and Sal crossed paths earlier.) Once both men are in the middle of the street, the film switches to two-camera coverage, with both cameras on dollies; the A camera, with a 27mm lens, gets the shot of Tango standing over Red, while the B camera, with a 75mm lens, is just behind Tango, looking through his legs at Red. The headlights of a car approach the scene from behind Red. Tango keeps pumping bullets into Red, finally killing him. But then Tango is shot from behind and falls to the ground. The camera racks focus, and we see the shooter in the background. Again, Murguia switched to anamorphic for Tango’s dying moments. As he dies, the camera begins to slowly rotate. Key grip George Patsos explains: “For the 360-degree camera roll, we used a Panatate, which rotates the camera around the lens axis.” Tango turns his head as the oncoming headlights grow closer. This bathes Tango in light and produces a lens flare, signifying Tango’s “moment of clarity.” Murguia
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notes, “I was very happy with that shot. It was important to do something dramatic to reflect what Tango is going through.” The third anamorphic shot is also the final shot in the film. Eddie has rescued some kidnapped girls and is walking away from the swarm of emergency vehicles that have arrived at the site. This time the camera and Libra head were on a 50' Technocrane. The crane dollies back as Eddie walks towards it, but slowly enough so that Eddie catches up to it. As he reaches the camera, he looks into the lens, and the shot freezes. “He survives, but in a subtle way, he has a moment of clarity, too,” notes Murguia. Murguia emphasizes how lucky he was to have such outstanding collaborators on his first U.S. production. “My first assistant, Robert Mancuso, is not only a great focus puller, but also an extraordinarily nice person. No matter what happened, he was always in a good mood. Given all the Steadicam work, Mike O’Shea had a really tough job, especially in the summer heat. And Jay Fortune and George Patsos came
Crewmembers position their gear to capture a shot of Gere for the film’s climax.
up with some great ideas; each of them had a trailer full of things, and no matter what we needed, they had it. Our production designer, Thérèse DePrez, always made sure there was something interesting in front of the camera. And, finally, colorists Stefan Sonnenfeld and Stephen Nakamura did a great job with the color correction [at Company 3].” ●
TECHNICAL SPECS 2.40:1 3-perf Super 35mm and Anamorphic 35mm Arricam Lite, Arri 435; Panaflex Platinum Arri Master Prime, Angenieux Optimo, Panavision Primo lenses Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, Vision2 250D 5205 Digital Intermediate Printed on Fuji Eterna-CP 3521XD
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Rabbit Hole Dariusz Wolski, ASC adds dimension to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a blend of live-action cinematography, visual effects and 3-D post techniques. By Michael Goldman •|•
Opposite: Years after her original adventure, 19year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) revisits Wonderland and its eccentric cast of characters. This page, top: The sequence in which Alice reenters the magical realm involved extensive size and perspective shifts as the character both shrinks and grows. Middle: Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, ASC (far left), Wasikowska and director Tim Burton check out the set. Bottom: Although this section of the film also required extensive digital manipulation, it was also one of the few scenes in Wonderland that was partly shot on traditional set pieces, allowing the growth illusion to be achieved incamera.
Unit photography by Leah Gallo. Photos and frame grabs courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.
s Tim Burton’s team plowed down the home stretch while finishing the 3-D fantasy Alice in Wonderland, director of photography Dariusz Wolski, ASC waxed philosophical about having a somewhat atypical role on a strange project that some might consider a distant cousin of Avatar. “This is one of those modern movies that makes it really hard to define the role of the cinematographer,” he observes. “It’s a film that really defined itself during preproduction. When we started, we had no idea exactly how we would make it.” The project’s schedule, budget, ambitious visual effects, unique design and stereoscopic-exhibition requirements, when combined, were not conducive to a traditional cinematography process — nor to adopting a native stereo-capture method. Burton and his collaborators decided that the imagery they had in mind could best be constructed through a continually evolving, communal effort in which boundaries between the camera and visual-effects departments were often blurred. Wolski and his crew captured actor performances on a series of greenscreen stages at Culver Studios in Culver City, and then senior visualeffects supervisor Ken Ralston and a team at Sony Pictures Imageworks set www.theasc.com
Down the Rabbit Hole about blending that material with allCG environments and characters, in some instances digitally altering the actors’ faces and bodies in the process. Key collaborators were the virtual art department, led by production designer Robert Stromberg; Sony Pictures Imageworks stereographer Corey Turner and visual-effects supervisors Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips; and the digital-intermediate team at Company 3, led by colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld. Burton recalls that the approach
didn’t bubble to the surface until late in prep, and even then, he says, it “often felt like we were making it up as we went along, which is not the best way to do it. But because we were mixing technologies heavily and dealing with a short shooting schedule [50 days of principal photography], it was inevitable. It was fun to experiment and try different things, but it was a very strange process — almost the opposite of making a traditional film, in the sense that we didn’t see what we had until the end.” Although Alice shares some
Alice approaches the rabbit hole that will send her tumbling back to Wonderland. This portion of the film was captured on 35mm film.
prominent similarities with Avatar, Burton’s film took a different track, not only because his project’s time and finances were comparatively modest, but also because he wanted to work organically with a sizable cast, which includes Johnny Depp (as the Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen) and Mia Wasikowska (as Alice). Burton rejected an all-motioncapture approach but fell in love with the notion of exotic, all-CG environments and extensive scale and perspective manipulations within the frame. Thus, shooting the movie digitally on a greenscreen stage eventually ripened into the only feasible option. However, Burton also wanted what he calls “a vast movie.” He wanted to honor some of Lewis Carroll’s iconic imagery and yet “do [it] in a way that has never been seen before.” He elaborates, “We wanted to show that Wonderland has fallen on hard times a bit, and we also wanted to use color to establish each character — each has its own kind of color scheme, in a way. That informed our approach and gave us something to hang onto while dealing with greenscreen all day long.”
Throughout prep, the filmmakers presumed they would shoot Alice in native stereo. Thus, Wolski spent several weeks testing the Fusion 3-D Camera System developed by Vince Pace and James Cameron and used on Avatar (AC Jan. ’10). Wolski says those tests taught him and Burton a great deal about composing imagery to achieve the correct depth, camera moves and perspective for a big-screen stereo presentation, but, at the end of the day, they concluded they wouldn’t have the time to set up the infrastructure necessary to shoot high-end native stereo. Because their “live” characters would be composited into a wide range of CG environments at Imageworks, the filmmakers decided to ask Imageworks to also apply its dimensionalization process — to transform the 2-D images into 3-D in post. “We studied examples of 2-D movies that had been turned into 3-D and agreed the results looked amazing,” recalls Wolski. “So, at the last minute, we decided to achieve 3-D in post. But the tests we shot with the Fusion rig were helpful, because they enabled us to understand the whole concept of convergence, how to design the space and so on. They helped us
The Cheshire Cat (top) and the Blue Caterpillar (middle) are two of the offbeat creatures who greet Alice. Sony Pictures Imageworks contributed a variety of complex CG creations. Bottom: Alice explores Wonderland’s forest, one of the settings filled with extremely detailed CG scenery conjured by Burton and production designer Robert Stromberg. Taking advantage of previsualization tools, Stromberg was able to help Burton visualize Wasikowska’s movements within the show’s virtual environments.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Top: The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) reigns supreme in her colorful realm. Middle: The Queen’s castle, realized as an eye-popping digital vista. Bottom: Tweedledee, Tweedledum and the White Rabbit are three all-CG characters who routinely interact with real actors in CG environments. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were animated via motioncapture data recorded from sensors worn by actor Matt Lucas and his double, while the White Rabbit was hand-animated.
keep a 3-D image in the back of our minds while we were shooting.” After deciding on a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the filmmakers took a mixedformat approach to acquisition, mingling high-definition video with 4K digital capture and 35mm. Panavision’s Genesis was the primary tool, and the Dalsa Evolution 4K camera was used to acquire plates for some visual-effects work. The film’s opening and closing “bookends” were shot on 35mm to create a visual distinction between Alice’s world above ground and the scenes that occur after she falls down the rabbit hole. Wolski notes that at the time — late 2008 — Sony’s F35 was not yet available, so the only Sony HD system he considered was the F23. “I think the resolution of the F23 is better than that of the Genesis, but it has a smaller chip, and I found that wide shots were not as sharp as they were with the Genesis,” he says. “In the tests, I struggled with wide shots, especially when characters wore pale costumes and pale makeup in soft light. Shooting against greenscreen, you don’t have all the sharpness and detail that comes with shooting a real set. Under those circumstances, I thought the wide shots were sharper with the Genesis.” ➣ 36
Down the Rabbit Hole
Using two Genesis bodies, the filmmakers shot raw imagery at -½ Gain on the Tungsten setting, recording uncompressed to Codex Recorders. “At the end of each day, the master recordings on the ‘exposed’ diskpacks, so to speak, would go to the video-control truck, where there was an LTO [data tape] transfer station,” explains Wayne Tidwell, the production’s data-capture engineer. “Masters were laid off to LTO tape for archival and safety backup, and the discpacks were recycled once the data was verified. During production, I’d transfer takes from a scene onto an external Firewire drive using DNX HD36 files. We had about 15 to 20 FireWire drives cycling constantly to editorial.” Working with a large set of Panavision Primo primes and two encoded 4:1 Primo zoom lenses (along with converted Leica lenses for the Dalsa), Wolski applied what he had learned from testing 3-D rigs. “With 3-D, it’s best to shoot on the wider end,” he says. “Our biggest close-ups were 75mm. I don’t think we went longer than that.” For scenes depicting Alice’s adventures in the rabbit hole — which comprise most of the picture — the
Top: The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is always ready to pour some tea. Middle: The White Rabbit joins the party. Burton notes that in his film, Wonderland has “fallen on hard times,” which is reflected in the picture’s color schemes. Certain shots were desaturated during the DI process, but individual palettes were also designed for specific characters, so environments tend to brighten up considerably when Alice is around. Bottom: After sipping her tea, Alice shrinks once again and eventually winds up being stuffed into a teapot.
Down the Rabbit Hole
The Red Queen’s distorted head size was one of the movie’s most complex visual effects. The first step was achieved by shooting Carter on a greenscreen stage. Dalsa’s 4K Evolution camera system was used to create plates at high resolution; this allowed the filmmakers to enlarge portions of the frame in post and then seamlessly stitch those elements together with images shot at lower resolutions.
camera was on a 30' Technocrane with a Libra head. One of the filmmakers’ trickiest tasks was determining how to provide plates for shots that showed size and scale shifts within particular frames; certain characters, and sometimes certain body parts, were designed to be different sizes from other elements in the frame. The Red Queen, for instance, has a head far too big for her body. Likewise, Alice is more than 8' tall in some scenes and tiny in others. Wrangling those scale changes was a big challenge and part of a larger paradigm for the movie — virtually every shot is, one way or another, a visual effect. In fact, Ralston, whose credits include such memorable technical achievements as The Polar Express (AC Nov. ’04) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (AC July ’88), calls Alice “the biggest show I’ve ever done,” adding, “It’s the most creatively involved I’ve ever been in this many areas of a major show.” The team ruled out motion control for plates involving shifts in scale because that would have required shooting separate passes, and “Tim wanted to make sure the actors could play scenes together,” says Villegas. “We used a variety of methods to get eyelines correct on set, including platforms and stilts. Dariusz had the problem of not knowing how much headroom to leave on various shots because Tim didn’t know, for example, exactly how big the Red Queen’s head needed to be until we’d put it all together. So Dariusz decided to just shoot it the way he saw it and let us use our post solution.” ➣ American Cinematographer
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Down the Rabbit Hole That solution involved capturing those plates in 4K with the Dalsa Evolution, which was in the prototype stage at that time. (Ed. Note: Dalsa has since departed the motion-picture business.) With the Evolution, the team could capture the Red Queen or Alice together with other live characters in a single 4K frame and then scale portions of the frame up or down while maintaining a high-quality image. In order to blend Dalsa footage with Genesis footage, the Imageworks team had to create software to ameliorate resolution differences between the two: the Evolution’s 4K images were 4096x2048, whereas the Genesis’ HD images are 1920x1080. Still, according to Villegas, the Dalsa was a helpful choice in the long run. “You can’t blow up footage from an HD camera by 50 to 100 percent and maintain the quality we needed,” says Villegas. “We needed a high-resolution camera like the Dalsa, but it had to co-exist with the Genesis in post — we knew we couldn’t have two different pipelines for them. “We wanted to maintain the Dalsa’s 2:1 aspect ratio in order to make sure we could use the full raster of the images Dariusz shot on set,” continues Villegas. “So we developed a process to
Almost every scene staged in Wonderland with real actors was shot on greenscreen stages. Environments were added later by Imageworks, which also handled the show’s stereoscopic conversion process.
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NO NEED FOR... ... OUTSIDE FOCUS ... LIGHTS Tweedledee and Tweedledum give Alice conflicting directions to her next destination.
resize the Dalsa images down to 2160x1080, approximating the pixel space of the Genesis. The Dalsa resolution had about 120 extra pixels on each side of the frame, and that became the basis of those images. So if we kept Alice at the native resolution of the 4K camera and comped her back into a scene of the downsized Dalsa material, we were effectively getting an 89-percent blowup without doing any resizing.” Imageworks achieved this with proprietary software called Recompose, which enabled the team to scale pieces of Wolski’s photography up or down and establish a seamless relationship between enlarged portions of the frame and the rest of the frame. In order for that work to be done, however, Wolski’s crew had to record live-action plates to exacting standards on the greenscreen stages. Central among their challenges was how to light greenscreen delicately and mitigate the
pervasive green spill. The solution, says Wolski, lay in the shadows, and “was something we kind of invented as we went along. “On a 360-degree greenscreen stage, the spill goes everywhere,” he continues. “If you want big shadows to fall on some of your subjects, those shadows often become green because there is so much green spill. So we used different shades of high-quality gray fabrics to create shadows. When we wanted to go real moody, we used a shade that was almost black. If it was a dusky day, we used a dark gray, and if it was day, we used light gray.” Above each greenscreen stage, gaffer Rafael Sanchez and his crew installed huge lightboxes to provide soft light. Each source comprised three soft boxes containing 32 6K space lights each, and all three were rigged with chain motors to facilitate extensive manipulation. This approach gave
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Down the Rabbit Hole
Burton’s desire to lend the movie “epic scope” is exemplified by scenes in the Red Queen’s throne room and during battlefield action that pits the Red Queen’s forces against those of her rival, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Wolski “great flexibility in shaping the light,” says Sanchez. “We even had control of each circuit in every space light.” Outside the softboxes, the crew placed 80 Kino Flos for direct greenscreen light, and they also used 20K Fresnels on scissorlifts and on the ground to build various sun sources that would eventually shine in through CG windows and doors. “We put silks that had been dyed various shades of blue underneath the huge lightboxes,” says Wolski. “I found that digital cameras don’t like red or warm colors very much, and they tend to go a little pinkish or reddish, so I cooled the whole thing off a bit for a cloudy-day look. The silks we used most of the time were ¼ Blue, and we had one for night scenes that was Full Blue. With the scissorlifts, we could bring in the 20Ks if we wanted a soft sun, a soft glow or a hard sun.” The nature of the production meant that there was no chance for the filmmakers to view the characters fully integrated with their environments on set during the shoot, nor could they take advantage of dailies in any useful way. They did, however, utilize a couple of on-set previsualization systems, according to Villegas. “We did real-time 44
Stayne (Crispin Glover) leads the Red Queen’s minions into battle.
keying of the greenscreen into the environments on set so Tim could view a character walking inside the environment she would eventually be in,” says Villegas. “It was a crude representation, but it did show him how the character would move and interact inside a set. Of course, to do a realtime composite of the greenscreens into the CG environments we built on set, we had to capture the camera move and replicate it in the computer.” This was accomplished in a couple of ways. First, the team used General Lift’s Encodacam system to encode dollies and cranes so that on-set camera moves could be recorded for virtualcamera data. They also used InterSense optical motion-tracking sensor technology, incorporated into Lightcraft Technologies’ Previzion system, to track movement of wild cameras. That data, along with zoom and pan-and-tilt data from the Libra head, and other signals criss-crossing the set, were interfaced through a Panavision Panahub. To give everyone a consistent
visual reference as production moved along, Wolski pulled frames from the Codex Recorder each day for key scenes and color corrected them with Photoshop. “Dariusz also set a look-up table in the Codex for each scene to help with the color timing,” says 1st AC Trevor Loomis. Wolski notes, “Using my LUT [in the Codex], I created a book of prints that showed the looks we wanted for all the crucial scenes, so when the effects team went to do comps, they had something to match to. I went off for about a week and just printed simple photos, adding contrast or changing color here and there, to provide simple guidelines for everyone.” As elements were captured onstage or created in Imageworks’ computers and then stitched together, Imageworks’ stereo department set about adding the third dimension. Turner credits the recent feature GForce, also done at Imageworks, for supplying a toolset and methodology for massaging 2-D footage of live-
“It was fun to experiment and try different things, but it was a very strange process.”
Down the Rabbit Hole
The White Queen promotes a kinder, gentler agenda from her part of the realm.
action characters and environments combined with CG characters into 3-D imagery. “G-Force gave us the experience of transforming 2-D [live-action] plates into 3-D, so we had a nice backbone to start the process on Alice,” says Turner. “But Alice posed a different challenge, in
that the primary task was to dimensionalize people. On G-Force, the team was dimensionalizing mostly objects.” Both rotomotion and matchmove techniques were used during the dimensionalization process for Alice. The chief tools used were customized
animation and compositing software, particularly Imageworks’ customized version of Maya 2009, which includes a custom stereo viewer; Imageworks’ proprietary compositing software, Katana3-D; Nuke compositing software (v. 5.1); and Imageworks’ in-house 3-D viewing tool, Itview. Ralston and Turner emphasize that this effort involved a great deal of finely detailed manual work — so much so that at press time, as the DI process was beginning, they were still making revisions and tweaks. After the final grading session, Turner was slated to do a final convergence pass on the imagery to fine-tune screen depth one last time. “I’ll be looking for depth jumps or lastminute tweaks,” Turner explains. “At that late stage, you can’t add more depth to the shot, but you can adjust screen placement and screen depth. It’s a manual process, and I view it the way the cinematographer views his role: he has to frame shots the way the director
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Wolski , Burton and senior visual-effects supervisor Ken Ralston (right) stayed in very close contact throughout production.
wants and fluidly hit those points. I do the same thing, only with depth.” As the process wound down, Burton conceded it had been a grueling adventure. He notes there are “some things I would do differently, but sometimes you decide to try something and
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Barry Ackroyd, BSC reteams with Paul Greengrass on the political thriller Green Zone, which follows a U.S. Army officer on assignment in Iraq. By Mark Hope-Jones •|•
oosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the new thriller Green Zone centers on the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is in Baghdad, trying to locate the weapons of mass destruction that were a critical element of the United States’ justification for war. Frustrated by poor intelligence, Miller digs deeper and deeper, and he soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens to make him an enemy of his own country. Green Zone reunited director Paul Greengrass with Barry Ackroyd, BSC, with whom he collaborated on United 93 (AC June ’06). Both men hail from a background in documentary filmmaking, and their work together is marked by a natural convergence of outlook and approach. “It feels like I’ve worked with Barry for many, many years, even though we’ve only done two films together,” says Greengrass. “In a sense, we’re rather an implausible couple to be making a big
Hollywood movie, but the interesting thing for us is that we’re making a film on a subject about which we both have a powerful point of view; we’re making it at scale, with all the big movie resources you’d expect; and yet we’re approaching it with the same aesthetic we would have applied to a small movie 10 years ago.” At the heart of the working relationship, notes Ackroyd, is an absolute trust born more of instinct than exhaustive preproduction. “I’d love to be able to say that we sat down and planned a look for the film, but that’s not Paul’s approach, and it’s not necessarily mine, either,” says the cinematographer. “If I said we talked about it for more than two hours over the course of the whole shoot, then I might well be exaggerating!” When AC visited the London set early in the production, the filmmakers were at work in Freemasons’ Hall, which was doubling for Baghdad’s Republican Palace in the early days of its requisition by American personnel. Inside, the crew stood about on a lit set of a makeshift CIA office, waiting,
Unit photography by Jasin Boland and Jonathan Olley, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Opposite: U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) defends himself in Green Zone. This page, top: Miller is grilled by CIA station chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). Left: Barry Ackroyd, BSC (left) and director Paul Greengrass eyeball a setup.
while Greengrass and Damon sat together in a corner, deep in conversation. The director and actor had been writing the scene set to be filmed that day for almost two hours. Eventually, they emerged and circulated sheets of paper still warm from the printer. It seemed a bit like chaos, but it wasn’t; the strategy was the product of Greengrass’ determination not to make assumptions about how a scene might work until all the elements are in place. “Sometimes we shoot pretty much what’s on the page and we know where it’s going, but other times it may change and develop as we shoot,” explains Ackroyd. “On a daily basis, Paul is making fine cuts with the script, the look, the sound and the
edit. As an ex-journalist, he feels his ideas work best when he’s under pressure.” For the cinematographer, Greengrass’ work methods required constant technical flexibility, and the day of AC’s visit was no exception. “I’ll tend to light 360 degrees if I can,” continues Ackroyd. “It’s kind of irrespective of where the actors end up on the set, so you don’t really have to block it, other than [make] little tweaks to make it look good. For the lighting on the set today, we discussed certain practicals in advance with the art department to create a military-office look: fluorescent tubes and angle-poise lamps. Then we figured out where light would come www.theasc.com
through the windows and what direction it should have. When Paul and the actors have decided what they’re doing, we can just enhance the look with smaller lights hidden in the set. Often after the first take, we might realize that a certain area is too dark or that there’s too much light on something, and we’ll adjust it. There’s a lot of communication between takes — that’s where a lot of the hard work goes. Outside, even just before we turn over, there’ll be people running around dropping flags and nets, refining the look for each take.” “The lights coming through the windows in that scene were 6Ks on one side and VistaBeams on the other,” explains gaffer Harry Wiggins. “The April 2010
Weapons of Deception
Top and middle: Journalist Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) and intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) become players in the drama surrounding Miller. Below: Greengrass preps a scene with Damon and Kinnear.
fluorescents were 950s, or what I would call a 9-series tube: anything with a CRI of 98. The art department bolted 5-foot horizontal twin fluorescent fittings with plastic diffusers straight to the temporary wall of the office to light the various maps and monitors that were mounted on it. That, combined with more plastic-diffused fluorescent fittings on T-bars above the center of the desks, gave us bright horizontal lines in the frame, which on a long lens starts to add a bit of magic. We needed 6-foot tubes in the background, and you can’t get those in a good 9-series, so they were an 865; they might have metered a little bit of green, but you’d never see it in the rushes.” Among the smaller fixtures hidden around the set for last-minute finessing of the lighting were “Tubos,” purpose-built units that Ackroyd devised for 360-degree and 180-degree lighting situations. “The Tubos were our workhorse throughout the bulk of Green Zone,” says Wiggins. The instrument is a single Kino Flo tube in a black plastic pipe painted white on the inside, with a slot cut out of it. “You can stand them on end, lay them flat on the floor or hang them from a line at the top,” says Wiggins. “We did anything we could do to make them work American Cinematographer
Weapons of Deception
Top to bottom: Lt. Col. Briggs (Jason Isaacs) disrupts Miller’s mission; Briggs and Miller in the field; Ackroyd and 1st AC Oliver Driscoll man the B camera.
quickly. I had some made with built-in dimmers, and they had an in-and-out power connector so we could daisychain them really quickly. The beautiful thing is that you can literally kick them about. We were working in dirty marketplaces in Morocco [which doubled for Iraq], and we’d just bury them in the ground, dig them all up at the end of the night, put them back on the truck and bring them out again the next morning. They were pretty much invulnerable. They were practically invisible, and we could pull them out or run them in at the drop of a hat because they didn’t need any grip equipment.” Lighting for 360 degrees was vital not only for last-minute decisions about what the actors would do, but also for maintaining a free-flowing approach to camerawork. The filmmakers used Arricam Lite and Arri 235 cameras, and at least two were running on every setup. Klemens Becker, a regular on Greengrass’ crews, was the A-camera operator, while Ackroyd handled the B camera. For scenes that required more coverage, 2nd-unit cinematographer Florian Emmerich and operator John Conroy would step in. “There was a 52
Weapons of Deception
Greengrass and Damon work out the details of an upcoming scene. “Sometimes we shoot pretty much what’s on the page, but other times [the scene] may develop as we shoot,” says Ackroyd. “Paul feels his ideas work best when he’s under pressure.”
kind of telepathy in how we covered scenes, once we had the look right,” says Ackroyd. “We did a lot of handheld, but we were using lightweight zooms so we could move around and change frame sizes. Klemens has his own technique; he tends to do wider shots that are handheld, so that would become a little block about 10 or 15 feet wide, with Klemens, the grip, the focus puller and a boom operator. Then I would sneak my camera in alongside theirs and do the opposite; I’d put on a long zoom and pick off tighter shots. We created almost every scene using a few variations of that strategy.” However the cameras were configured, the priority was to sustain a continuous sense of motion. “We always kept that handheld feel and the ability to move,” says Ackroyd. “Sometimes I used little sliders, variable lengths of steel rods that let me cushion the camera on a base but still keep it quite loose. Having a 4-foot or 6-foot slider means that if you get blocked, you can always create a bit of movement, or if you want to create blocking, you can do that, too.” Ackroyd and Becker’s different operating styles naturally positioned 54
them at different ends of the focallength range used to cover each scene. Ackroyd notes, “When I operate, I find myself wrapped around the camera, very close to it, so it’s more connected to
“Our role was to allow the ‘reality’ to happen in front of the camera and give the actors and Paul the freedom to do what they wanted.” my body motion. I was using a long [Angenieux] Optimo zoom [24290mm], which needs support, so I’d use a Manfrotto monopod to keep that handheld feel. Klemens would strip the camera down to its lightest possible American Cinematographer
configuration and use it more like a video camera, with an onboard monitor. That allowed him to throw the camera around a bit more and worked with his use of a fairly wide lens.” In addition to the 24-290mm Optimo, Ackroyd often used a 2876mm Optimo, but the lenses that were on the cameras most frequently were 80-200mm Nikon stills-format zoom lenses that were rehoused by Arri. Ackroyd also carried a set of Zeiss Ultra Primes, but the team “only used them for a few night shots where it was so dark that we needed the extra stop,” he says. “If we did use a prime, it was usually the 135mm so we could keep that compressed, long-lens look.” Becker had a habit of naming various lenses after films he liked, and Ackroyd enjoyed winding him up by encouraging the crew to use completely different movie titles for the same lenses. “That was just part of our strange English humor,” says the cinematographer. “If Klemens called the 28-76mm Ipcress, we’d call it O Lucky Man! or Kes or This Sporting Life — basically going back to English Free Cinema. We saw British social-realist films as more of an influence on us than anything else.” Another reference for the visual approach — especially for tense combat scenes — came from an entirely different source. “YouTube was a massive influence,” reveals Ackroyd. “If you want to know how soldiers move, then you get military advisers, but if you want to see what it actually looks like when they burst into someone’s house, then you look at YouTube. We were trying to get the rawness and energy and truth of what you see in those shots. The soldier with the video camera is usually following the others and actually participating in the action, and that’s what we tried to do with our camera. We want the viewer to feel like an observer who’s inevitably caught up in what’s happening. Our role was to allow the ‘reality’ to happen in front of the camera and give the actors and Paul the freedom to do what they wanted. I
Weapons of Deception
A-camera operator Klemens Becker, a regular on Greengrass’ projects, stays close to Damon. “Klemens tends to do wider shots that are handheld … he’d strip the camera down to its lightest possible configuration and use it more like a video camera,” notes Ackroyd.
didn’t have to talk to Paul too much because our method was just to avoid doing anything that would interfere with the process. We’d never invade someone’s scenario or get into the middle of a group. We always shot outside the circle; that was a basic tenet.” Being a political thriller, Green Zone involves a lot of corridors and a good many walk-and-talks. That meant that large and long areas had to be lit, and Greengrass’ penchant for long takes made this even more important. “I always try to make whatever I’m shooting as taut and compact as I can, but then play it out in its longest possible form,” says Greengrass. Ackroyd recalls, “We did a shot in the Republican Palace where we walked all the way through four scenes in about seven locations, so we had to light a staircase, a corridor, an entrance hall, a big reception area, a press conference, another corridor and then a meeting room. We spent most of a day lighting the whole thing and then two-and-a-half hours shooting it, using three cameras and handing the scene over from one 56
camera to the next. Of course, it will be cut to pieces in the final film, but that’s the kind of freedom Paul wants.” Faced with such protracted takes, Ackroyd’s crew tried to light from outside windows wherever possible,
“We want the viewer to feel like an observer who’s inevitably caught up in what’s happening.”
usually with 12K Pars or banks of 4K Pars. “The great thing about working with Barry is that he’s always happy to work with the best you can give him,” says Wiggins. “He fully understands the American Cinematographer
limitations that come with trying to make something very versatile. I’d try to maintain a good level where we could give it to him, but I wasn’t struggling to bring everything up to the same level because I knew we’d be cutting quickly and the camera would never be static. The set-dressing department’s aesthetic was all about functionality, so we could get away with murder. If a corridor was dark, we were free to dot it with work lights, small tungsten floods on stands or little fluorescents that were standing on the floor or up on T-bars. We also used 1.2K HMI Gaffair balloons, which we put up on a wire overhead or on a stand that could pass for a piece of military equipment. They gave us 360 degrees of soft illumination, and that was useful in places like the Republican Palace. We could inflate them very quickly, and because they’re air balloons, we could change our minds about them without incurring huge helium costs.” Well into the shoot, the final act of the film still hadn’t been worked out, though the crew knew it would involve a chase across Baghdad. Ackroyd recalls, “I clearly remember Paul
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Weapons of Deception
Cast and crew prepare for a high-octane action sequence involving an ambush.
mentioning casually that we were going to start this chase sequence in a week or two, and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if it took place at night?’ Then he walked off to get a cup of tea! So the script pages, which were being written at the time, all suddenly changed, and the final movement was suddenly taking
place at night, outside the Green Zone, during a curfew, in a place with no electricity!” Wiggins describes the scale of the challenge: “We had to find a lighting setup that would create a very dark atmosphere, with no apparent sources, while somehow enabling us to see
what’s going on in a fast-moving chase sequence over an area of about 16 acres. Obviously, we had to go backlit, but we were on streets, so we couldn’t do soft moonlight. Also, we needed to see 360 degrees in all these shots. It was pretty tricky! Most of the time, we were working on the rooftops of houses and access was generally by staircases only, so we were limited to 5Ks and 10Ks.” Ackroyd adds, “It became very difficult to keep lights out of the frame, especially because one of Paul’s favorite shots is the low-angle tracking shot, usually behind the action. The light had to come from somewhere, so inevitably, sources sometimes appeared in shot, and the visualeffects team had to remove them in post.” In order to visually differentiate the Green Zone, the safe haven established by U.S. forces, from the rest of Baghdad, Ackroyd used Fuji Eterna Vivid 500 8547 for scenes in the Green Zone and other Eterna stocks for the
rest of the picture. With light spread so thin for the chase sequence, the 500ASA Vivid was pushed to its limit. “Paul wanted those scenes to feel like death, so we used a heavy green gel [219, with 251 diffusion] that took 2½ stops out of the light,” says Ackroyd. “We were underexposing to get what I call ‘a night feel,’ but using a T2.8 zoom lens in such dark conditions, when you’re already 2 or 3 stops underexposed, can get scary. We were doing all the things you’re not meant to do with film stock in order to tell the audience that this is a place of death. The grain became part of the story.” Throughout the shoot, the production’s footage was processed by Soho Film Lab and transferred at Ascent 142 on an HD Spirit DataCine. Ascent 142 also handled the digitalintermediate scanning, color correction and filmout. AC caught up with Greengrass and Ackroyd again partway through the grade, which they were
carrying out with colorist Rob Pizzey. The filmmakers mulled over their rather unusual approach to such a big production. “The trick is not being afraid of the scale,” says Ackroyd. “It’s just film moving through a camera. As long as it’s good in front of you, you can capture it.” Greengrass notes, “We tried to stay true to a look for the film that unfolded as we made it, a look that was extremely direct and straightforward. Barry never wants to photograph something without it having a simple, direct humanity; that’s a great eye to have. If I’m doing a scene with him and I sense something that doesn’t feel right that I can’t put my finger on, I’ll know for sure that Barry has sensed it, too. In the end, that is, I think, the most defining bond that has to exist between a director and a cinematographer.” ●
TECHNICAL SPECS 2.40:1 3-perf Super 35mm Arricam Lite, Arri 235 Nikon, Angenieux Optimo, Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses Fuji Eterna Vivid 500 8547; Eterna 250D 8563, 500T 8573 Digital Intermediate Printed on Kodak Vision 2383
3 Dimensions Director of photography James Neihouse trains a crew of astronauts for the Imax film Hubble 3-D. By Jay Holben •|•
inematography is an alchemic blend of art and science that is often pushed to its limits in the pursuit of modern filmmaking. Nothing, however, can complicate the job more than extreme conditions, and few situations are more extreme than shooting in outer space. Add to that the complications of large-format 3-D cinematography, and you can comprehend the technological complexity of Hubble 3-D. Cinematographer James Neihouse is a veteran in the extreme rigors of extraterrestrial photography. Since he worked as a camera assistant on the Imax film Hail Columbia! (1982), he has become an integral player on the company’s outer-space team. He was the cinematographer on The Dream Is Alive (1985), the first film to send an Imax camera into space, and he became the go-to space cinematographer on the
Photos courtesy of NASA. Photo on this page courtesy of NASA, ESA, C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner and P. McCullough (STScI).
The Final Frontier in
Top photo courtesy of NASA, ESA, M.Robberto (Space Science Telescope Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.
Opposite: A composite image of the Helix Nebula taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Mosaic II Camera on the 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory in Chile. This page, top: An image of a stellar jet in the Carina Nebula observed in light, captured by Hubble’s new Wide Field Camera 3 installed by NASA astronauts during the final servicing mission. Bottom: Astronaut John Grunsfeld (on the shuttle arm) passes a new cover to Andrew Feustel (to the left) in a shot filmed with the Imax Cargo Bay Camera during the fifth and final space walk of the STS-125 mission.
Imax productions Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, Mission to Mir and Space Station 3-D (AC May ’02). Hubble documents NASA’s final repair mission to the famous space telescope. In addition to his traditional duties as cinematographer, it was Neihouse’s responsibility to train the shuttle’s astronauts to be de facto cinematographers for the 3-D Imax camera in space. “NASA gives us about 25 hours of face-to-face time with the astronauts to train them in basic shot selection and exposure and advise them on what to do if things go wrong,” says Neihouse. “Fortunately, astronauts are incredibly smart people and really quick studies.” Most of Hubble’s terrestrial sequences — the majority of the movie — were shot with Imax’s two-strip Solido 3-D camera, which exposes left and right eyes on separate pieces of 65mm film. To capture scenes in space, the filmmakers used the Imax Cargo Bay Camera 3-D, which MSM Design’s Martin Mueller designed and built for Imax for Space Station 3-D. “The ICBC was purpose-built to fly on the space shuttle,” says Neihouse. The
camera reduces size and mass by using a single strip of 65mm film to capture both left- and right-eye stereo images, yielding 30-perf 3-D. Standard Imax film passes horizontally through the camera, with each successive frame alongside the previous one. To photograph stereo images onto one strip, the www.theasc.com
two lenses are mounted side-by-side, and the camera features two aperture gates, thus the 30 perfs. Each opening of the camera’s shutter exposes two frames, left and right, and then the film advances two frames before the next exposure. The two side-by-side images are separated digitally in post and then April 2010
The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions
Gas released by a dying star races across space at more than 600,000 mph, forming the delicate shape of a celestial butterfly. This image (popularly referred to as the Butterfly Nebula) was one of the first images captured by the Hubble’s newly installed Wide Field Camera 3.
combined onscreen to create the single stereoscopic image. “Classic 3-D Imax was done by taking the left eye on one roll of film and the right eye on another, and then projecting them to create the stereo image,” says Neihouse. “With the ICBC, we do it digitally; because lefteye and right-eye images are side-byside on the same film roll, we scan all the left-eye, then all the right-eye, at 5.6K to separate them to individual left/right rolls. Digital tools have made that whole process a lot easier, but I’d rather go back to direct photochemical printing because we lose resolution through scanning. An Imax frame is probably close to 12K resolution, and we can only scan it at 5.6K. It’s just the nature of the beast.” To expose left and right eye on one strip of film, the film is running 62
through the camera at 12' per second, twice the normal speed (effectively 48 fps). In order to get a full eight-minute load, Neihouse and his team had to manually splice together two 2,700' rolls of unexposed 65mm film to get a total of 5,400'. Only a single load could be sent into space because the camera’s position and enclosure — not to mention the astronaut’s main mission priorities — prohibited reloads. “We had to be very choosey about what we did with those eight minutes of footage,” notes Neihouse. (See sidebar on page 68.) Neihouse and Toni Myers, the film’s director, spent 18 months working with the crew at the Johnson Space Center to carefully plan out the footage they would gather in space. “We learned exactly what they would be doing at each stage of the mission and picked American Cinematographer
what we felt would be the most interesting moments, and then we created a shot list for the team, keeping in mind that the camera would be locked off,” recalls the cinematographer. The Imax team also worked in the Virtual Reality lab at NASA, where scientists would re-create the proposed space walk from any vantage point, giving the filmmakers a previsualization with which to work. The astronauts train tirelessly for life in zero gravity by utilizing NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6.2-million-gallon pool, and the filmmakers joined the astronauts in the pool to both help plan their shot list and document the training. Underwater cinematographer Howard Hall shot the pool sequences with the Solido in an underwater housing. Out of the water, the camera and housing weighed 1,500 pounds, and a crane was required to get it into the water, but once in the pool, the camera and housing became so light that Hall could handhold the rig to cover the action. Although the filmmakers used Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 stock at the pool, they still needed a good deal of light to maintain a small aperture for 3D. “It took a lot of persuading, but we managed to talk NASA into letting us light the pool,” says Neihouse. “We had about half a dozen Hydroflex HMI Pars in the pool and an 18K and 6K HMI topside. Everybody was worried about the lights distracting or blinding the astronauts, but after we shot, they begged us to keep it. They said, ‘We can finally see down there!’ “We had a lot of tools to help us pick those eight minutes of outer-space footage,” continues Neihouse. “But our shot list was more than double what we wanted, because you never know what will happen up there. The first day of shooting on the mission ended up completely behind schedule because of a single bolt that didn’t want to come out. Suddenly, we were in the dark.” The telescope resides in a Low Earth Orbit of 347 miles above the surface of the planet. At that distance, the Hubble must travel at 17,045 mph
Photo courtesy of NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.
Top: In a moment captured by the 3D Cargo Bay Camera, Feustel transfers the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement unit from the Hubble to its temporary stowage position in the space shuttle Atlantis cargo bay. Bottom: Astronauts Michael Good (on the Shuttle’s remote manipulator arm) and Michael Massimino (inside the Hubble) replace the telescope’s Rate Sensor Units during the mission’s second space walk.
to maintain its orbit and not come crashing to Earth; it takes the telescope about 97 minutes to circle the Earth. “That means we’re seeing a ‘sunrise’ or ‘sunset’ just about every 45 minutes,” says Neihouse. This happens because the Hubble travels around the “dark” side of the planet, where the Earth is between the telescope and the sun. As the Hubble comes back around the Earth into view of the sun, it experiences the equivalent of a sunrise; it’s a mere 45 minutes before it starts to travel toward the backside again and experiences a sunset. The five space walks done during the mission averaged 7 hours and 12 minutes each, and during those periods, Hubble saw 4½ periods of sunlight and 4½ periods of dark. “We were fortunate in that due to the nature of orbital mechanics, and because we were shooting in the middle of May, we had a bit more daylight on each rotation than we did darkness,” observes Neihouse. “We were also fortunate that the astronauts had to orient Hubble so that direct sunlight wouldn’t enter the telescope when they had it open — they call that the ‘sunprotect attitude.’ So while they were
working on it, they were in constant open shade, lit solely by sunlight bouncing off the Earth, the biggest bounce card you can ever imagine!” The space footage was shot on Kodak Vision2 50D 5201 at a typical aperture of about f8. “We ended up balancing between f5.6 and f8 most of the time,” says Neihouse. “Sometimes we’d get as much as an 11, but that didn’t happen often. I wanted to shoot www.theasc.com
as deep as possible to keep the depthof-field, which is crucial to 3-D shooting.” Part of the astronauts’ cinematography training was instruction about how to use a spot meter and make exposure calculations. Neihouse notes, “It can be crazy, even for a seasoned cinematographer, to evaluate exposure when the light is constantly changing. Back at Mission Control, we April 2010
The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions
Right: Hubble repair maneuvers were rehearsed by the astronauts in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Below: Cinematographer Howard Hall moves the Imax Solido 3-D camera in its waterproof housing to film astronauts Massimino (left) and Good in the NBL.
could hear the astronauts debating what the exposure should be! “Determining exposures in orbit is probably the most challenging aspect of these projects,” he continues. “Over the years of shooting these space films, I’ve developed a good database of exposures in various situations, and I give the astronauts a spreadsheet that suggests which stop to use in which attitude. We 64
always push for the smallest stop possible without getting too thin of a negative. My biggest nightmare is that the camera returns from space with a superthin negative and nothing in focus!” Although the astronauts had no ability to interact directly with the ICBC camera, they had an IBM laptop with proprietary software that allowed them to remotely control lens selection, American Cinematographer
iris, focus and start/stop functions, and also view video feed from the camera. Locked in the shuttle’s cargo bay, the camera had no ability to pan or tilt, and its position had to be set long before the craft was launched. “We had to fix the camera in position a year before the scheduled launch,” recalls Neihouse. “NASA has to specially certify anything and everything that goes into space, and the parameters are extraordinary. Every last screw and washer has to be approved and thoroughly tested.” The final position ended up 10' from the base of the telescope. The camera was fitted with a remote-operated turret lens mount that gave the astronauts a selection of a pair of 30mm, 40mm or 60mm Imax lenses, all mounted at a fixed interocular distance of 68mm. “On the space cameras, we have fixed interocular, with no convergence — the images are parallel,” explains Neihouse. “We figured that would minimize the screw-up factor and make the camera easier for the crew to operate.” The film stock used in the ICBC was made specifically for the production
The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions
Top: The space shuttle Atlantis moves away from the Hubble just after release at the conclusion of the final servicing mission. Bottom: Astronaut Megan McArthur works the controls of the remote manipulator system on the aft flight deck of the Atlantis.
on Kodak Estar polyester print-stock base, which is thinner and stronger than standard acetate in order to withstand the 12'-per-second speed through the camera. “The Estar stock also doesn’t have a memory the way acetate does, which is a big issue for us,” asserts Neihouse. “When you load acetate film into a camera, it tends to set and take a 66
memory around the sprocket wheels and rollers. That can cause a jam if it’s set in too firmly when you start up the camera. This wouldn’t be an issue if the camera is loaded right before shooting, but in this case, we had to load the camera a month before the launch, and then it just sat there. Acetate film sitting in that position for that long would American Cinematographer
likely jam and break, and that would be a major disaster.” Because the shuttle is docked in a climate-controlled hangar, there is little concern about unexposed film sitting in the camera for a month. “They have the humidity set to around 50 percent, and they maintain a temperature of about 68°F,” says Neihouse. “The conditions are pretty optimal.” Getting the film to the lab, Technicolor in Los Angeles, proved to be another challenge. “Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, I’d show up at the airport in Orlando with four cans of film under my arm and a letter from NASA, and it was all good. It’s a lot harder to get the film through security today.” Of course, the footage wasn’t exactly under Neihouse’s arm — the undeveloped negative is held in custom-made cans and weighs more than 50 pounds per roll. “It took nearly four months of discussions with various authorities to get everyone to approve my hand-carrying the film onto a commercial flight without them Xraying it,” continues Neihouse.
“Basically, NASA had to deem the footage a ‘national treasure’ that was irreplaceable. In the end, it was the easiest passage I’ve ever had through TSA security because everyone knew I was coming way in advance.” Because of bad weather, the space shuttle didn’t land in Florida as expected; it was diverted to Edwards Air Force base in California. Although California was the negative’s ultimate destination, Edwards didn’t have the appropriate equipment to offload the shuttle’s cargo bay, so the Imax team couldn’t retrieve the film until the shuttle was transported back to Florida. Even though the ICBC camera is significantly smaller than the Solido, the camera and container loaded into the shuttle’s cargo bay weighed over 700 pounds. “The container had to be semi-sealed and have its own slight atmosphere so that we could draw a vacuum and keep the film flat,” explains Neihouse. Because of the Imax negative’s extremely large size (2.772"x2.072"), even with registration pins, the film naturally wants to curl. Attempts to tighten the pressure plate against the aperture in early Imax cameras resulted in scratches to the film, so the original engineers of the Imax system drilled channels in the pressure plate and incorporated a light vacuum into the housing to gently suck the film against the pressure plate during exposure. “That keeps the film from curling or wobbling and keeps the focus incredibly sharp, but there has to be some atmosphere inside the camera in order for the vacuum system to work,” says Neihouse. “We have to maintain a slight pressure, 4 or 4½ pounds per square inch, to allow the vacuum to do its thing. We also had to incorporate special valves so the container would pressurize itself, release pressure in space, and increase pressure on re-entry to equalize the atmosphere in the container.” As spectacular as a 3-D Imax view of outer space might be, in this case it was defined by the camera’s physical position in the cargo bay. “Because the camera was positioned
below the telescope, we got a lot of feet and buns and backpacks,” says Neihouse. “It’s impossible to see the details the astronauts are working on, especially when they’re inside the telescope, so we incorporated footage from their helmet cams.” The spacesuits each astronaut wore contained a singlechip Sony XC-999 “cigar” camera, which sends standard-definition video to the shuttle and Mission Control.
The filmmakers were able to capture this signal to see what the astronauts saw, including details of what they were doing inside the telescope. “We incorporated that footage and uprezzed it, and it looks pretty good,” says Neihouse. “In 3-D, your brain gets tricked into thinking it’s seeing twice as much information, so it’s not as bad as you might imagine. It is, however, video captured from space and trans-
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Filmmakers in Orbit
he only filmmakers aboard the space shuttle Atlantis capturing footage for Hubble 3-D were the astronauts themselves. Capt. Gregory Carl Johnson was the pilot of Atlantis, and the man primarily responsible for the control of the CB3D Imax camera while in orbit. “It was a lot more pressure than I thought it would be!” says Johnson, a NASA test pilot and former Naval Aviation officer. “We receive photography instruction as part of the basic astronaut training, and we all [carry] digital cameras, but working with the Imax camera really changed things. The problem was that you couldn’t predict when a scene would start and stop; if a task on the shot list got delayed by 10 minutes, it could suddenly slip into night. Although there’s a mile of film in the camera, it’s only eight minutes’ worth, and it was up to us to get what the filmmakers needed in 20-30 second bursts. “[Director] Toni Myers suggested specific lens choices for specific moments, but it was really up to us to decide what to do at any moment,” he
continues. “If the ground was in view, then Toni wanted us to use the 30mm lens and set the focus at infinity, but we had to make sure that whatever was closest to the camera was also in focus. Judging focus using the laptop computer that controlled the camera was very difficult, so we relied on diagrams in the cockpit to estimate distances and set our focus that way. We’d say, ‘If the space walker is over there, he’s 10.2 feet away,’ and that’s where we set the focus.” There was room for only one Imax camera, so the crew also worked with Canon XH G1 HDV cameras. One of the main in-shuttle videographers was astronaut Mike Massimino. “I did a lot of crew interviews — I was interested in bringing out the personalities of the crew and telling the story of the mission,” he says. “Toni had special instructions for us to follow when we shot video. They were different settings than what we shot for NASA, and some of it was pretty complicated, so I had to have a cheat sheet: install wide conversion lens, use headphones to monitor sound, filter
off, focus manual, AGC off, auto white balance on. We had to use a separate microphone and attach that to the XLR. We had to switch to 24p instead of 60i and set the shutter to 1/48. Toni always wanted us to do manual focus and manual exposure. Exposures were the most complicated part, especially on the Imax camera. Rocket equations I can handle, but exposures are complicated!” “There was an incredible amount of pressure to get it right,” recalls Johnson. “I think I’d rather be in head-to-head air combat going 100 knots in an F18 than have to be responsible for those eight minutes of footage again!” But the results were worth it. “Being out there on a space walk is truly incredible, and when I saw some of the 3-D footage of that on the Imax screen, it came as close to real as it gets,” says Massimino. “I got the same chills watching the footage as I did when I was up there. It really got my heart going again.” — Jay Holben
Photo at left by Matt Petit, courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.; photo at right by Dimitri Gerondidakis, courtesy of NASA.
Above: STS-125 astronauts and Hubble 3-D filmmakers gather around the Imax Cargo Bay Camera at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “Astronaut as Filmmaker” event on July 14, 2009. From left: Commander Scott D. Altman, producer/director Toni Myers, mission specialist Michael T. Good, mission specialist Michael J. Massimino, mission specialist Andrew J. Feustel, pilot Gregory C. Johnson, mission specialist John M. Grunsfeld and director of photography/astronaut trainer James Neihouse. (Megan McArthur was unable to attend.) Right: The Cargo Bay camera, which holds 5,400' of film, is prepared for installation on the Orbital Replacement Unit Carrier at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.
The Final Frontier in 3 Dimensions Atop the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center, looking down at the space shuttle Atlantis, Neihouse (far right) and crewmembers place the Imax 3-D camera in its fireproof housing to film the launch of STS-125.
mitted down to Earth, so there was always interference.” The shuttle crew also carried a Canon XH G1 HDV camera to document their activities inside the shuttle. “That camera was certified for the International Space Station, so NASA
allowed it to fly on this mission,” says Neihouse. “Although we had more than a year of prep, we didn’t really have the time — or the budget — to certify a different camera. The NASA spacecertification program is grueling and incredibly intense; it would have taken
about six months of rigorous testing and about $250,000 to get another camera certified. On this project, we really pushed the camera beyond its intended use, and we got some great, intimate footage of the crew that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Astronaut Mike Massimino did most of the operating, and he’d go off the cuff and interview the crewmembers almost every day. It’s amazing material, and we would never have gotten it if not for that little G1.” The filmmakers used a mix of 3-D and 2-D Imax cameras (and Kodak Vision2 250D 5205) to shoot the shuttle launch, including a 30-perf 3-D camera that is similar to the ICBC but designed for earthbound production scenarios. The lineup looked like this: A Solido in a blast housing was positioned less than 100 yards from the main rocket engines; a 30-perf 3-D Camera (also in a blast housing) was on the launch tower, looking down with a
Photo by Michele Erdman.
30mm Elcan fisheye lens; another 30perf 3-D Camera was on a Technocrane near the press area; an Imax MKII 2-D camera was placed on another launch pad to the south; and a Solido was put on a Chapman Olympian crane on the VIP side of the launch area. “As controlled as those launches are, you never really know what’s going to happen,” notes Neihouse. “You never know if the cameras close to the launch will still be there after the launch. NASA has had cameras as far away as 200 yards be completely obliterated. You also never know where the smoke is going to go; your camera position can be wasted by a cloud of smoke. We were lucky that all of our gear made it through the launch unharmed. Also, since the Columbia accident, NASA has put a lot more cameras on the outside of the craft to monitor what’s going on during the launch, and we were able to incorporate some of that footage into the film. It’s not anywhere near the
quality of the Imax cameras, but the shots are so dynamic that it really doesn’t matter.” DKP 70mm Inc., Imax’s post subsidiary, handled the production’s scanning, digital grading, filmout and photochemical timing. “All of the 30perf material, 2-D/3-D conversions, and material captured in space went through the digital realm, but most of the Solido material was finished photochemically,” notes Neihouse. “We only go digital on the images that require it. “Working with the Imax space program is a lot of fun and a very unique job, and it has definitely made me a better cinematographer,” he concludes. “When you’re shooting in space, you don’t get two takes.” ●
TECHNICAL SPECS 1.43:1 15-perf/30-perf 65mm and Digital Capture Imax Cargo Bay Camera 3-D, Solido, 30-perf 3-D, MKII; Canon XH G1; Sony XC-999 Hasselblad and Elcan lenses Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, 250D 5205; Vision3 500T 5219 Specialized Digital Intermediate Printed on Kodak Vision 2383
Some of the most memorable images at this year’s festival were captured with a wide range of formats. By Simon Gray, Patricia Thomson and Jon D. Witmer •|•
Expanded Palettes O
ur Sundance reportage this year covers three cinematography prizewinners, a visually distinctive feature from Bolivia, and the festival’s first 3-D feature. Director of photography Zak Mulligan used the Red One to capture Obselidia, for which he won the cinematography prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. That contest was judged by a jury comprising ASC member Robert Yeoman, actress Parker Posey, author Russell Banks and filmmakers Karyn Kusama and Jason Kliot. Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson used a mix of digital formats to capture The Oath, for which they shared the cinematography prize in the U.S. Documentary Competition, judged by filmmakers Greg Barker, Dayna Goldfine, Morgan Spurlock and Ondi Timoner and journalist Nancy Miller. Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough chose to shoot Super 16mm for His & Hers, for which they shared the cinematography prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. That jury comprised filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, PBS News Hour correspondent Jeffrey Brown and film-festival director Asako Fujioka.
Obselidia Cinematographer: Zak Mulligan Director: Diane Bell “Rebel” was the official theme at Sundance this year, and the Dramatic Competition entry Obselidia fit the bill perfectly. Shot in 18 days by a novice director for less than $500,000, the film came away with the festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Prize for its scientific topicality and an Excellence in Cinematography Award for its director of photography, Zak Mulligan. “We felt that not only was the film extraordinarily beautiful, but its images perfectly captured and conveyed the essence of the story,” says Dramatic Competition juror Robert Yeoman, ASC. Obselidia is about obsolescence not just of objects and technologies, but also of whole species. George (Michael Piccirilli), a loner librarian, is writing an encyclopedia of obsolete things. He interviews Sophie (Gaynor Howe), a silentmovie projectionist, and the vibrant young woman offers to drive him to Death Valley to interview a reclusive scientist (Frank Hoyt Taylor) about his dire forecast for the planet and its inhabitants. Visually, “I wanted a feel that was rather nostalgic,” says
Obselidia photos courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.
director/writer Diane Bell. A voracious cineaste with particular affection for the French New Wave, Bell eschewed a contemporary approach to coverage, relying instead on wide shots and long takes — a style that paired well with the short shooting schedule. Mulligan offers, “I had [ Jean-Pierre] Melville in my head because of his long takes and limited coverage.” Bell and Mulligan considered various formats, including Super 16mm and 2-perf 35mm, before settling on digital capture and choosing the Red One. “Shooting Super 16 would have been doable, but it would have meant less coverage,” notes the cinematographer. “Diane was a first-time director, and we thought shooting film would give us less room for error.” Mulligan brought his own Red camera (Build 17) to California, along with a small set of Zeiss ZF prime lenses. Framing for a final aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the 28mm and 50mm were his workhorses, while the 21mm was used for high-speed work. He had a 1/8 Tiffen Black Pro-Mist on the lens throughout the shoot. Noting that he uses that filtration with every digital camera, he observes, “That touch [of diffusion] rounds out the highlights just enough and rolls off that sharp [video] focus, making it look more filmic.” Despite being a small, characterdriven film, Obselidia put the Red through its paces, offering an obstacle course of extreme heat, low light and vibrations on set. The factor that concerned Mulligan the most was heat: almost half of the movie was shot in Death Valley, where temperatures soared to 115°F even in April. Furthermore, the tight schedule necessitated shooting throughout the day. Mulligan considered various ways to keep the camera cool, including ice packs and putting the camera in a cooler. “My first assistant, Jeff Nolde, was concerned that ice-packing would create condensation, so we nixed that idea,” he recalls. They decided to simply forge ahead. “We just did very basic, common-sense stuff,” says Mulligan.
Opposite and this page: A librarian’s encounter with a comely film projectionist leads to Death Valley in Obselidia. Below: Director of photography Zak Mulligan lines up a shot with the Red One.
“We always made sure we had a flag covering the camera, and sometimes we’d put a whole tent over it.” During two days of testing and eight days of photography in Death Valley, “it never gave me problems,” he says. The Red didn’t fare quite as well with another Death Valley challenge: bumpy roads. With budget in mind, Mulligan decided to record to the Red Drive rather than the costlier, solid-state RedRAM drive. He brought three 320GB Red Drives, some Compact Flash cards, and 4x LaCie external hard drives that were rotated with the editor. (2x LaCie drives were always on set for redundant backup.) “It’s critical to have good, professional hard drives like LaCies or G-Techs,” notes the cinematographer. “I’ve used some brandnew drives that were $100 less expensive, and they crapped out after an www.theasc.com
hour of use.” Obselidia’s driving scenes were mostly on paved roads, but one Death Valley dirt road proved to be the Red’s undoing. “I wanted all the dust kicking up behind the car,” says Mulligan. The crew put the camera on a shock-absorbing hood mount and crossed their fingers. “It barely recorded, it dropped so many frames,” says Mulligan. They subsequently switched to CF cards, which required them to return to home base every four minutes to switch out cards. Desert exteriors created fewer blown-out whites than Mulligan anticipated. Without a budget for big units to control the fierce sunlight, the production relied on 12'x12' and 20'x20' frames of silver lamé. But the desert provided additional assistance. “Because there aren’t a lot of plants to soak up the light, April 2010
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes the desert gives you this big, earthybrown bounce light that fills in everything,” says Mulligan. “It’s actually not as contrasty as you might think.” Obselidia’s nostalgic tone comes through most beautifully in the slowmotion bicycling scenes, which were inspired by Truffaut’s Jules & Jim. These were shot at 60 fps in 2K. Mulligan cycled through the Zeiss 21mm, 28mm and 50mm lenses, but his secret weapon for the dreamy visuals was a Sears Roebuck 80-200mm zoom from the 1970s that he found in his father’s dusty camera bag. “It was built like a tank, but it wasn’t precision at all, and there was no lens coating,” he says. Its patina matched the film’s mood. “The minute the lens had any light to it, it would flare out. It would get soft and milky and look super warm, with lots of oranges and golden tones,” says Mulligan. “Diane fell in love with it.” In low-light and nighttime situations, Mulligan exposed and lit just as he would a film camera, but refrained from pushing the Red’s ASA, which can create noise. In tungsten-lit scenes, he opted for an 80D Blue filter to correct the camera’s native 5000ºK balance. “It’s only a 1/3-stop loss of
light,” he says, “and cleans it up enough that you can bring it the rest of the way in color correction without getting noise.” Throughout filming, Mulligan toggled between Raw and Look views to assess exposure, always checking the False Color Meter, which provides a color-coded reading of IRE values. “You push a button, and the whole image comes up with crazy colors, and each one means something. A face may be all pink, and pink is your 70 IRE range,” he says. “It’s like having a spot meter on every pixel.” Mulligan notes that the most complicated aspect of using the Red comes in postproduction, when its proprietary Redcode files are transposed to another format. “The minute you change color space, whatever your look was on set is totally negated, and you end up starting over,” says the cinematographer, who did the final color correction at Numb Robot in Burbank, Calif. “Currently, the Red look and metadata live in this world of Red-only standards. They need more partners with color-correction suites and more standardization. You need to be able to take that metadata and apply it all the
Director/ co-cinematographer Laura Poitras stays close to Yemeni cab driver Abu Jandal in The Oath, which brought Poitras and co-cinematographer Kirsten Johnson one of the festival’s cinematography awards.
way through the color-correction.” The key, he concludes, is “knowing the tool you’re working with and planning ahead.” Obselidia was screened on HDCam at the festival. — Patricia Thomson The Oath Cinematographers: Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson Director: Laura Poitras This year’s cinematography award in the U.S. Documentary Competition went to The Oath, a film with two stories, two styles and two cinematographers. Co-shot by director Laura Poitras and Kirsten Johnson, the film interweaves the sagas of Abu Jandal and Salim Hamdam, brothers-in-law who were associated with Al Qaeda in the late 1990s. The bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden, respectively, the men subsequently took divergent paths. Abu Jandal (the name is an alias), once an Al Qaeda recruiter, became a cab driver in Yemen after renouncing terrorism, while Hamdam wound up in isolation at Guantánamo
The Oath frame grab courtesy of Praxis Films. Filmmaker photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.
Poitras (left) and Johnson accept their award.
Bay, and then at the center of Hamdam v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court case that struck down President George W. Bush’s plan for military commissions. It was The Oath’s intimacy and access that won the jury over. “We thought it was an incredibly beautiful portrait of people in places we rarely get to see,” says juror Morgan Spurlock. “It was very intimate. We were also impressed by the situations these two female cinematographers put themselves in. They were in a place that isn’t normally friendly to Western men, let alone Western women filming a movie. That was brave and impressive.” Poitras says she started out with a different story in mind. She originally went to Yemen, in 2007, hoping to find a recently released Guantánamo detainee to track. A lawyer introduced her to potential subjects, and through Hamdam’s family she met the charismatic, articulate Abu Jandal. “In 30 seconds, everything was doing somersaults in my head,” Poitras says. “Here’s this guy who was Osama’s bodyguard, and he was driving a taxi. The storyteller in me knew that was compelling.” Poitras asked Abu Jandal for permission to put a camera inside his taxi, and for the next two years, she bounced between New York and Yemen, slowly building a rapport with
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes her subject that enabled her to capture intimate moments, including him with his young son, and him reflecting on the evolution of his beliefs since 9/11. But Poitras also managed to hang onto the Guantánamo storyline, weaving in the trial of Hamdam, even though he never appears onscreen. “There was always this idea of there being ghosts in the film — people detained who are missing,” she says. “Once I had Abu Jandal as the main thread, I felt Hamdam’s character would be a ghost.” Poitras had shot her last documentary, My Country, My Country (2006), herself, but she knew she would need a second cinematographer for Guantánamo. In 2008, she brought in Johnson, a director and cinematographer who has shot for Michael Moore, Barbara Kopple, Kirby Dick and other nonfiction stalwarts. Poitras envisioned two distinct visual styles for Yemen and Guantánamo. She explains, “I always wanted to film Yemen in a very intimate, kinetic way, entering a world we haven’t had access to.” By contrast, Guantánamo was austere and still. “[Kirsten] was on sticks, doing lockedoff shots,” says Poitras. “There was a sense of trying to be outside this world, of stepping back and saying, ‘What is this bizarre universe?’ Kirsten’s eye was in charge of evoking the sense that it’s almost like a crime scene. You don’t really know what happened in Guantánamo, but it has some strong subtext.” Both cinematographers shot with a standard-definition Panasonic AGDVX100A, using its 4.5-45mm Leica Dicomar zoom. They recorded at 24p Advanced in 16x9. “I began this project thinking I’d change over to high-definition video midway through,” says Poitras. “I’ve always been one to embrace new technology.” But they wound up sticking with MiniDV. “It’s like a really trusted paintbrush — there’s a beautiful palette to it,” says Poitras. Johnson adds, “I own one and still haven’t found an HD camera that
matches what that camera can do.” Inside the taxicab, they used a smaller Canon Vixia HV20, shooting to tape at 24p. Mounted on the dashboard or in the rear of the cab, the camera rolled untended for an hour at a time, capturing Jandal with his passengers. (For screenings at Sundance and the Berlinale, the movie was screened on HDCam 1080i.) Poitras shot on and off in Yemen for two years, while Johnson made two trips to Guantánamo, first for five days, and then for four weeks. The filmmakers were there on an assignment for
“She encouraged me to follow the impulse to film things in the most disconcerting way.” Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, for which they were producing a story. Johnson subsequently went to Yemen for two weeks after Hamdam was released, capturing vistas, street scenes and views from the taxi. Altogether, they shot 125 hours of footage, “a very small amount,” says Johnson. “We were both limited in all kinds of ways in both places.” In Guantánamo, journalists were prohibited from filming the trial and could record only the daily press briefings. Johnson could shoot landscapes on the base, but only under military escort, and she was not allowed to film military installations or even the complete shoreline. “They were very concerned about security, even though there are Google maps of the entire area,” Johnson notes. “The military’s constraints made me frame differently,” she continues. “It American Cinematographer
would get my shot off-kilter. I’d say, ‘Well, that’s kind of interesting. Let me make it a little more off-kilter.’ I was constantly going toward more asymmetrical framing.” Poitras encouraged that. Johnson recalls, “When I start shooting, there are always a few shots I take just for me alone, and I know they’ll never make the film because they’re so unconventional. Laura saw a couple of those and said, ‘That’s what I’m looking for.’ I said, ‘Really? I can do that?’ She encouraged me to follow the impulse to film things in the most disconcerting way.” Poitras also told Johnson to attend the trial despite the prohibition against cameras. “Few directors would have said, ‘Spend eight hours of your shooting day in the courtroom, listening, and then take that experience out into the landscape and interpret it,’” Johnson says. “I’ve rarely worked with a director that trusting.” This also meant that Johnson spent the hottest, brightest daylight hours inside, “absorbing the mood,” she says. “Then I’d go out in the world at the perfect hours — pre-dawn or magic hour.” Meanwhile, in Yemen, Poitras practiced patience. On every trip, she brought a wish list of shots. “I might have 20 things, and I’d come back with two crossed off,” she recalls. “I knew it was going to take time, and it was probably six months before I felt I was starting to get what I needed.” She gradually managed to capture such personal scenes as Abu Jandal’s pre-dawn prayers with his son. “What I find amazing about Laura’s vérité footage is that she really goes with her eye where you want to go as a viewer,” Johnson observes. “When Abu Jandal is praying and pulls his son’s foot closer, you don’t quite get it. Laura has the same thought and gets the shot. Then you can see it and understand. She questions with the camera.” For both cinematographers, the hardest part of filming was “the psychological pressure,” says Poitras. “We were so close to so many nerves: 9/11, Al Qaeda and Guantánamo.” Neither Guantánamo nor Yemen were easy locations. “It was kind of shocking when
Kirsten came back,” says Poitras. “She’s shot in Darfur and lots of hot spots, but she said Guantánamo was the toughest psychologically.” Johnson explains, “It was the constant sense of being watched. We had to travel in groups, and there was no physical freedom at all. I’d never experienced that before.” — Patricia Thomson His & Hers Cinematographers: Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough Director: Ken Wardrop “When you think of a love story, you usually think it’s between a boy and a girl, and it’s as simple as that,” muses Michael Lavelle, who shared the World Cinema Documentary Cinematography Award with Kate McCullough for the Irish film His & Hers, directed by Ken Wardrop. “This film,” he continues, “uses a series of small love stories to create a sense of the love story of life, in a way.” Composed of interviews with 70 females — ranging in age from a few years old to the 90s (and edited to progress from young to old) — His & Hers presents a unified narrative of love as it is experienced at each stage of life. However, McCullough admits, “We were a bit concerned about having so many stories and making them fit side by side. It was crucial to lay down a feeling of familiarity [throughout the interviews] so it feels like it’s all one story. That led us to frame simply and not complicate the visuals. “Rather than have a cinéma vérité feel, where you’re right on top of the character using a raw style of filmmaking, we wanted to settle the camera and let [the women] do the moving,” McCullough continues. The static camera and wide framing apply to the actual interviews as well as the cutaways, which show the women performing such mundane tasks as making the bed or peeling potatoes. The effect, Lavelle notes, “gives you time to absorb the space they live in. You see how they
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes
His & Hers tells a unified narrative of love made up of interviews with 70 females, ranging in age from young to old. Top right: Cocinematographers Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough flank director Ken Wardrop.
literally move through their world.” Thematically, His & Hers feels like a continuation of Wardrop’s short film Undressing My Mother (2004), on which Lavelle served as director of photography and McCullough operated the camera. Both films were shot with a four-person crew rounded out by producer Andrew Freedman, who pulled double duty as the sound recordist. Lavelle also shot the shorts Scoring and Farewell Packets of Ten for Wardrop, and in 2008, he wrote and directed the short film Out of the Blue, for which McCullough won a Best Cinematography award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival. One of the first decisions the filmmakers made was to shoot His & Hers on Super 16mm. “To shoot a 78
documentary on film was an incredible privilege,” says Lavelle. “It was very tricky for Ken, because we usually had only about a can of film for each interview and its cutaways. It was really tight.” His & Hers was shot over three months, during which the four crewmembers stayed in a house in the Irish Midlands, central to the interviewees, whom Wardrop found with the assistance of researchers Hannah Smolenska and Sheena O’Byrne. The average shooting day began at 7 a.m., with one of the filmmakers preparing breakfast while another made the day’s lunch and the other two packed the gear into the van. By 8 a.m., the crew was on the road to the first of the day’s two interviews; each interview, plus its corresponding cutaway shots, had to be American Cinematographer
completed within four hours. Although Wardrop met with all of the interviewees in advance, the cinematographers didn’t meet them until the day of shooting. McCullough recalls, “We sometimes had photos of the person’s house, so we could get ideas about which spots might be good for shooting. The main concern was where we placed the person; that dictated everything else.” “We wanted the light to have a natural feel,” adds Lavelle. “Anything that looked lit was something we just had to rethink.” To take advantage of natural light, the cinematographers shot on Kodak Vision3 500T 7219 with a set of Zeiss Super Speed lenses, favoring the 12mm, 16mm and 25mm focal lengths and frequently maintaining a Tstop of 1.4. (They framed for 1.85:1.) Filtration was kept to a minimum, with only an occasional ND or polarizer placed in front of the lens. When conditions required additional lighting, they turned to a 1.2K HMI or a 4' four-bank Kino Flo; they also frequently bounced light into a silver cake tray. “The company had a very small van, and that was our physical limitation: What lights could we put in there that our budget could afford?” says Lavelle. The key to the interviews, Lavelle stresses, was “to be as low-key and friendly as possible so we wouldn’t disturb whatever was naturally going on in the house. It was really important to
His & Hers images courtesy of Venom Film and the filmmakers.
have the feel that we were just popping in for a cup of tea with an old friend. Actually, the producer sent around a letter to all the ladies that said, ‘Whatever you do, please don’t offer us tea,’ because it could have been 10 hours before we’d get out! Getting out past the cups of tea was the hardest thing, but that shows the warmth of the women we interviewed — they took us into their hearts. I think that’s evidenced in the footage as well.” His & Hers marked the first time Lavelle and McCullough shared cinematography duties, and to help delineate their roles, the two traded camera and lighting responsibilities each week. However, McCullough says, “there was ultimately more work to do in the camera department, so it wasn’t really that clear-cut. Mike might be operating, but then I might need to pull focus on certain shots. It was an odd mix of jobs.” Lavelle agrees, noting, “The boundaries between the two jobs were quite blurred because we knew we were tight for staff. We watched each other’s backs and double-checked each other. The main thing was that we all felt like we were pushing in the same direction and working as a team.” During interviews, Wardrop sat with a remote start-and-stop control for the camera — an Arri 16SR-3 Advanced — tucked under his arm. When he sensed a usable moment, he started the camera rolling, but, Lavelle recalls, “because the space was often so quiet and intimate, you’d hear the camera. We had pillows and my leather jacket tied around the camera just to keep the volume down. It was fine, though, because the pillow and leather jacket also made us look pretty low-key. Instead of some big, fancy technical thing in their house, it was just a group of friends with a little camera that made a bit of noise.” Returning to their rented abode at the end of the shooting day, the filmmakers set about making dinner and unloading the van. While the cinematographers unloaded the film, cleaned the gear and filled out the day’s
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes Southern District (Zona Sur) Cinematographer: Paul de Lumen Director: Juan Carlos Valdivia
The camera remains indoors throughout His & Hers, often catching glimpses of interviewees through windows.
notes, Wardrop would edit ultra-lowresolution copies of the day’s footage, shot off of a clamshell monitor on set by a Sony HVR-Z1U camcorder, which Freedman used to record the audio. The crew would watch the edited footage each night after dinner and discuss their plans for the next day. As the filmmakers watched the edited footage, Lavelle recalls, “We found our choices of shots were becoming more limited, because we were trying to build a flow and create a sense of unity over the film.” Serendipitously, the homes the filmmakers shot in offered a naturally unifying color palette. McCullough explains, “The women had their walls painted in such a way that you would think someone had done production design. Pastels were a motif, and what the women wore was often matched to their environment.” Throughout His & Hers, the camera remains indoors; if an interviewee steps outside, the camera watches through a window. “These ladies were welcoming us into their homes, and it felt like we should stay in their homes for the whole film,” says Lavelle. “That visual motif became very strong in the film. “At the very end, we take the camera outside and see a woman inside,” 80
he continues. As the nonagenarian sits alone in a nursing home, Lavelle says, the audience is “left with a sense of inevitability, which says enough, I think. We thought about putting in moments like marriage, birth and death, but in the end, those are just hinted at. We don’t show a wedding, but we do show a girl who’s just getting her wedding dress washed. After a screening of the film, a woman commented that we think our lives are made up of really momentous events, but it’s actually these small moments that define our lives. It was Ken’s vision to come up with that type of stuff.” The production’s negative was processed at Film Lab North in Leeds. Later, the digital grade was done with colorist Angela McLellan at Screen Scene in Dublin, and a 35mm festival print was made on Kodak Vision Premier 2393 at LipSync Post in London. Thrilled with the success of their collaborations to date, Lavelle and McCullough are currently preparing to tackle a narrative feature as director and cinematographer, respectively. “It’s good fun to work together,” says Lavelle. “Long may it continue!” — Jon D. Witmer
One of the riskiest entries in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition was Southern District (Zona Sur), a Bolivian film about a wealthy family in suburban La Paz and their indigenous Aymaran servants. Politically loaded and stylistically unique, the film went out on a limb, and the risk paid off: director/writer Juan Carlos Valdivia won the festival’s directing and screenwriting awards in the World Cinema category. Additionally, Bolivia submitted the film for Academy Awards consideration. Bolivia is undergoing cultural realignments as wealth slips from the upper class and indigenous people gain power. This became clear with the election of President Evo Morales, the first Aymaran to hold the office. Valdivia put his finger squarely in the wound during a heated election year, addressing race and class in a polarized culture, but choosing a style that withholds judgment. In the film, a matriarch lords over her three children in a beautifully appointed home, where a loyal indigenous butler and gardener take care of the children’s needs and whims. However, money is running out because of the parents’ divorce. When the butler learns of his son’s death, he leaves to attend the funeral against the matriarch’s wishes. This is followed by other turns of fortune that disrupt established power dynamics. Valdivia describes the plot as “minimal,” noting that the storyline “is subverted for other elements, like atmosphere. In fact, during the first two-thirds of the movie, you could put the scenes in different order and it wouldn’t matter.” What’s most striking is the design Valdivia worked out with the film’s cinematographer, Paul de Lumen: Each scene is a single shot lasting two to five minutes, and each shot utilizes a slowly rotating camera that makes up to four
360-degree turns per scene. The moves are independent of the actors, who walk in and out of frame. Because the characters are onscreen only 60 percent of the time, viewers wind up observing the house, which becomes a character as the camera reveals its luxurious décor and layers of family history. This radical approach was motivated by several ideas. One was German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s theory of human individualism, which utilizes the metaphor of spheres. “We create spheres, or bubbles of existence,” says Valdivia. “These bubbles can be like foam, a conglomeration of individual spheres, but they are also individual bubbles.” The family embodies this social dynamic, while the circular camerawork suggests the spheres they each construct and are trapped within. The moves also express an Andean view of cyclical time. “Juan Carlos wanted the feel of a clock, and he wanted it to be unforgiving, like time,” says de Lumen. “Using a remote head facilitated that feel.” De Lumen shot Southern District with a Red One (Build 16), “the first in South America,” according to Valdivia, who acquired it in June 2008. He and de Lumen, who is based in Los Angeles, spent a year shooting commercials with the camera before Southern District came together. Valdivia wanted to shoot his feature with the Red mainly because he “wanted to prove you could make a very well-made movie with digital capture. It was a personal mission.” For Southern District, they captured at 4K Redcode Raw, the maximum resolution possible. Because some scenes ran nearly five minutes, the Compact Flash cards didn’t offer sufficient storage space, so de Lumen recorded to the 320GB Red Drive. (The production carried two.) “We were able to shoot all the coverage of one scene on that,” says de Lumen. “It was about a half-day’s worth of shooting.” Camera movement was performed in two basic ways: rotating on its axis, or circling around a scene. Valdivia used the architectural program
Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes
Clockwise from above: A frame from Southern District; cinematographer Paul de Lumen (second from left) checks the rig, a Pelé Remote Head underslung on a custom hi-hat, which was then mounted on skateboard wheels; director Juan Carlos Valdivia (second from left) and the cast prepare for a shot at the dinner table. The dinner-table rig includes a Kino Kamio Ring-Light, which helped with faces as the rig revolved.
SketchUp, which even enabled lens choices, to plan shots. He had an architect render a 3-D model of the practical location, then moved a camera eye through it. These decisions became a springboard for what de Lumen calls a “jam session” on set. Choreographing actors and camera and finding the right speed for both were time-consuming challenges. They averaged 15 takes, sometimes going up to 30. In effect, says de Lumen, “that was our coverage: the speed of the camera, size of the lens and the blocking of actors. Those were 82
the ways we provided options for the editor.” De Lumen shot most of the movie on a 24mm Arri Ultra Prime, which was “wide enough to capture the room without distorting the actors when they got close to it. It was the perfect lens for multiple coverage within one shot.” Key grip Rosendo Ticona created a couple of rigs to achieve the clock-like camera motion Valdivia wanted. “Rosendo’s custom rigs enabled us to take an ABC Products Pelé RemoteHead XL35 off the 10-meter jib and American Cinematographer
apply it to other supports,” says de Lumen. “One rig was a special hi-hat, so we could mount the remote head onto a dolly or baby legs. This allowed us to not only rotate 360 degrees on its axis, but also slide on dolly track to accommodate blocking and framing in tight situations.” Dolly grip Walter Achu was often lying on the floor, inches out of range of the camera’s view. “Another custom rig was a jib arm attached to the ceiling,” continues the cinematographer. “We were able to mount the remote head onto it to get a circular floating feel that I could control remotely. The dolly grip would gently coast the camera around, and I would control the pan and tilt. It created a really unique feel that’s unlike Steadicam, dolly or crane.” This was utilized for the film’s sex scenes and the penultimate “godmother” scene, in which the mother is offered cash for the house. Gaffer Raul Hernandez worked closely with Ticona to create special rigging for the lights. “There’s not an abundance of normal rigging material [in Bolivia] like C-clamps, gobo-heads, C-stands or spreaders,” notes de Lumen. “This was important because we were shooting in a practical location where there was very little room to hide lights.” De Lumen and Valdivia supervised the 2K digital intermediate at Filmosonido in Santiago, Chile. (The goal was a 35mm print at 1.85:1.) In the
Southern District frame grab and photos courtesy of Cinenomada. Photos by Martin Jordan and Paul de Lumen.
color-correction, de Lumen smoothed out uneven lamp temperatures, finessed varying skin tones, and fine-tuned white walls, which predominate in the house. The festival print was struck on Fuji Eterna-CP 3513DI. As significant as Southern District’s technical challenges were, the project’s biggest challenge was devising a whole new visual language and trusting that the audience would “get it,” says de Lumen. “I’d been shooting commercials, where you need to get something across in 30 seconds. You tell viewers what they want to feel. Southern District does the opposite.” He acknowledges that there were moments when he feared the movie’s style might seem pretentious, boring or even dizzying. It wasn’t until several scenes were cut together that he and Valdivia were completely convinced of the rightness of their approach. “The more I watch the film, the more I respect Juan Carlos for having the guts to stick with it,” says de Lumen. — Patricia Thomson
“It’s an extraordinary thing to teach film without reducing it to techniques and rules, and yet teach the rigour and effort that is necessary to improve your work .”
Cane Toads: The Conquest 3-D Cinematographers: Toby Oliver, ACS; Kathryn Milliss; and Paul Nichola Director: Mark Lewis 1935 marks Year Zero for one of Australia’s biggest environmental disasters: 102 cane toads were introduced into the country as the solution to the Greyback Cane Beetle, which was decimating the Queensland sugar-cane industry. Despite their reputation as voracious devourers of living and dead matter, the toads had other ideas. Instead of eliminating the beetle, they utilized their other voracious appetite — breeding — and today, an estimated 1.5 billion toads have migrated across Northern Australia, with no end in sight to their continental conquest. Mark Lewis’ Cane Toads: The Conquest was the first 3-D feature to screen at Sundance, and the first Australian feature to shoot in 3-D.
Paz Fabrega, 2006 MA Filmmaking graduate. Paz's first feature Agua fría de mar won the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2010. She was selected for the 2009 Cannes Cinefondation Residence programme.
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◗ Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes
Lewis initially began shooting in 2-D when the production company, Participant Media, nixed his 3-D pitch, but 3-D eventually ended up back on the table, and Lewis and his cinematographers — Toby Oliver, ACS; Kathryn Milliss; and Paul Nichola (who was also the stereo and visual-effects supervisor) — had only a short time to put the logistics into place. Framing for an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the filmmakers used Silicon Imaging SI-2K Mini cameras mounted on 3-D mirror rigs. A proprietary P+S Technik 3-D rig was used for interviews, while Nichola used “a fair amount of unconventional methodology to construct rigs for shooting underwater, from vehicles, off a crane, with deep focus and in macro shots, and, most importantly, to capture the toads’ POV,” he says. “Each rig was designed to establish the required interocular,” continues Nichola. “We could also converge slightly, but there was never an intention to fully converge because we knew we would finish with a 1920x1080 image size. The additional pixels provided by the SI-2K allowed a modest amount of room for shifting without enlarging. It wasn’t feasible or necessary to have 84
precision alignment. The left eye was used as the master simply because we had to pick one, and we were going to put the right eye through a transform pass. “The key aesthetic for the documentary was that the lenses were almost always at the toads’ eyeline or lower — we often crane from a toad to reveal a new background vista,” he continues. To achieve these shots, Nichola constructed the “Mini-Rig,” which Digital Solutions’ Ben McNiell describes as “the best example of how we custombuilt rigs to be smaller than what was commercially available. We used SI-2Ks with a set of 1-inch machine-vision lenses from a U.S. company called Kowa; they cover a bigger image area than the CMOS chips, which allowed Paul the option of optically converging the lenses. That meant he could shoot parallel, which was another plus. The toad was typically about 300mm from the lens.” The Kowas were also used for macro shots, which Nichola achieved by installing an extension barrel to pull the lenses away from the body. Another key rig was a rigid sideby-side rig where the cameras could be set up and the pitch corrected. “That rig spent a lot of time on the crane for
Cane Toads: The Conquest photos courtesy of Radio Pictures.
Australia’s cane-toad population takes center stage in the 3-D feature Cane Toads: The Conquest.
Toby Oliver, ACS checks the 300mm side-by-side rig used to capture some shots.
grand vistas,â€? recalls Nichola. â€œThe SI-2Ks were rigged with a PL mount in the first block [of filming], but there were questions raised about the back-focus, so we changed to B4 mounts for the second block,â€? he continues. â€œThere was also a lot of testing of zoom lenses. In the second block of the shoot, we changed to primes, which were more manageable. The primes did shift laterally as focus was pulled, but to my mind, that didnâ€™t matter, because with Markâ€™s predilection for proscenium compositions with locked-off shots, focus pulls were rare.â€? Cane Toads: The Conquest uses a highly structured visual approach. â€œMark was looking for a sophisticated visual style based on his trademark offbeat humor â€” toad POVs, interviewees looking straight at the viewer, and centered compositions that put the viewer face-to-face with the human characters and the toads,â€? says Oliver. Nichola adds, â€œWe set up the 3-D depth range the same as one would establish the area of focus, and the toads worked within those parameters. We carried our own toads everywhere. The only mystery in the equation was what the toads would do in front of the camera;
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Sundance 2010: Expanded Palettes
Stereographer/co-cinematographer Paul Nichola at work on the set.
they aren’t readily trainable animals, and mostly they just sit in one spot.” Principal photography lasted 22 weeks and was divided into three blocks. Oliver covered the first shoot, in the Northern Territory; Milliss handled the second, in Queensland; and Nichola
took the reins for the third, in New South Wales. Block 1 was a two-month shoot in Australia’s “Top End,” extending from tropical Northern Territory to the far north of Western Australia. MidNovember in the Territory is near the
end of the dry season and is the hottest time of the year, with temperatures approaching 113°F in near 100-percent humidity. The toads congregated in vast numbers around remote waterholes, waiting for the onset of “the wet.” Oliver shot a memorable sequence at dusk at a remote location named Croc Tank Lagoon. “We set up the P+S Technik 3D rig alongside a 30-meter-wide stretch of mud at one end of the waterhole at dusk, firing up a couple of small but punchy lights. Only a few of the nocturnal toads appeared at first, creeping out of low bushes and holes in the mud, but after an hour, thousands of them were swarming towards the muddy water, their eyes glowing like stars in the night sky.” Block 2 of the shoot covered the toads’ early history in Australia and features interviews with contemporary toad experts and a great collection of Australian characters. “We shot in toad season, which happened that year to take us into some of the worst flooding in
Queensland’s history,” recalls Milliss. For interviews, she used the P+S Technik rig with two SI-2Ks and Fujinon E-series lenses. “Mark’s interview aesthetics are wide-frame frontal compositions of the subject in their environment,” she notes. “We talked about Peter Greenaway’s early work, particularly Act of God for the boldness and humor of its interviews. An interview is not traditional 3-D fare, but the third dimension helps to create the most wonderfully intimate portrait. The audience feels they’re right in the subject’s home — that they could lean over and peer into the next room. It’s important to consider the effect of the interaxial on the subject; for instance, an IA that is pleasingly slimming for one person might be unkind to someone else’s nose.” A Block 3 sequence titled “Creatures of Love” details the toad’s breeding cycle. Nichola combined exterior location footage with intricate
macro tabletop work. Filmed on location in Mullumbimby, New South Wales, the scene was established with a crane shot revealing a male toad sunning itself on a lily pad, then swimming through the water, all the while bathed in strong sunlight provided by gold reflectors and mirrors. A female toad, meanwhile, lies in wait on a bed of water-flowers. Glittering reflections from the water provided highlights appropriate to the romance of the scene. The tadpoles, which are only 10mm long, were shot on a 4'-square tabletop “stage” in the studio, with a blue backlight cyc replicating the location’s clear blue sky. Sunlight was recreated with a Par 575, while LEDs provided the fill. “In the studio, I increased the lighting levels to keep the depth-of-field looking consistent,” notes Nichola. “On a wider shot, the depth would take care of itself, and when I went in on longer lenses, I’d build the stop up.”
Using Silicon’s DVR software, the footage from the SI-2Ks was fed into two Dell laptops — one for the right eye and one for the left — and recorded onto 1-terabyte USB drives. HDMI splitters provided monitoring back to the cameras. “We constructed our own 1280x720 OLED screens to accurately determine focus,” explains Nichola. “I also built a 3-D monitor, which we called the ‘shoebox monitor.’ It was a very simple system using two high-resolution LCD screens reflecting into mirrors placed at 45 degrees. The images became overlaid, providing a 3D effect without glasses.” The picture was graded by Adrian Hauser at Cutting Edge Post in Sydney. “Adrian did an extraordinary job, especially considering that we never tested the post path all the way through,” says Lewis. — Simon Gray ●
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Filmmakers’ Forum I
Strengthening Crucial Ties With Collaborators Interview by Stephanie Argy
The Visual Effects Society recently presented its first Production Summit, an event designed to give people from all areas of the motion-picture industry the opportunity to interact and discuss the problems that challenge all the crafts. As a follow-up to that event, AC asked ASC President Michael Goi to sit down with VES Chairman Jeffrey Okun (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai) to discuss some of their organizations’ shared concerns. What follows are excerpts from their conversation. Jeffrey Okun: The point of the Production Summit was to start conversations, to get all the verticals within the entertainment business in the same room and say, ‘Where are we going? What’s it going to look like? And how are we going to get there as a cohesive whole?’ We’re collaborating to tell a story. We can make it so much more fun and so much more artistically satisfying by learning how to work with each other. Michael Goi, ASC: Over the last few years, cinematographers have certainly become more involved in the postproduction end than we were previously, back in the days when we just did color timing straight to print and then tweaked the video transfer. I find myself being involved much more heavily on the preproduction end as well. So it is necessary to have a better understanding of what each of the crafts does. It’s a popular concept among cinematographers to think of the cinematographer as the ‘author of the image,’ but when you look back through the history of the industry, you see that the greatest images have always come through a spirit of collaboration. If you look at a great shot and say the cinematographer was the author of the image, where was the costume designer? Where was the makeup person? Where was the production designer? All those elements helped to create that great shot. That’s what we need to recognize: that personal stamp is the personal stamp of everybody working toward the same goal. Okun: It should be that way, but instead it’s fractionating, and I lay the blame squarely on how visual effects are perceived. I trace all our problems back to 1978, when Star Wars came out on VHS, and it had the very first this-is-how-we-did-it [featurette] that anyone paid attention to. Let’s say you were 10 years old in 1978. You’re 42 today, and you’ve been raised on a diet of these added-value things that are not quite true. And we visual-effects people are the ones who propagated the mistruths because we were so excited to be invited to share a table with the above-the-line group. We said, ‘These computers are awesome, and my guy hasn’t been home in
three days but he’s happy as a clam— we just get him pizzas and Diet Cokes.’ It’s not the computer; it’s the artist. If I sit there with the elements, you’re going to get a piece of crap, but if [compositor] Ken Stranahan sits there with the same elements, you’re going to get a piece of artwork. We’ve sold the technology, not the art, and now we’re all shocked that people say, ‘Well, my son has a Mac. He can do that.’ Goi: The drive of a lot of the prosumer market is to convince people that anybody can make movies, and you can do it all yourself. You can shoot it, direct it, write it, edit it, do the visual effects and do all the sound work. That is damaging to the concept that collaboration produces great results. There has to be a change, and it has to start with the young people, because they’re the ones who adopt all these tools the fastest and figure out new ways to use them. They have to learn how to recognize that artistic collaboration is the key to getting what they want. I’ve always prided myself on hiring crew people who know how to do their jobs better than I know how to do their jobs. I never want to do a second-rate job; I’d rather hire the person who does a first-rate job and then capitalize on his or her experience and knowledge. Okun: I’ve found that by sacrificing my own ego, I get more accolades. I present the elements and a temp version of a shot to my team and tell them the intention of the shot, and I give them the bottom line that they have to move up to for it to be acceptable. Then I say, ‘If you have a better idea, I’d love to hear it or see it.’ And nine times out of 10, I go back to the director and say, ‘Here’s what you asked for, and here’s what the team came up with. It’s a change of a concept, but what do you think?’ The director doesn’t say, ‘You’re fired.’ He says, ‘Great. Get this guy more work down the road. We need more of those people.’ So it only helps. Goi: I recently did a series of Webisodes for Breyers for which we inserted an actress into footage from Gone With the Wind and King Kong, so we had to duplicate exactly those shots’ lighting style, in addition to the dress and makeup. Working with the visual-effects team was a tremendous amount of fun, because I filled in the holes in their education as far as what it took to get those images, and they filled in holes in my knowledge about what they could do with it. So it was a really great collaboration. Okun: It’s great when that happens. There’s nothing more exhilarating and satisfying. Goi: I was speaking at a conference in Florida recently, and a young guy stood up and said, ‘Don’t you think your job is obsolete?’ I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘Well, anybody who picks up a digital camera today is a cinematographer.’ I responded,
“We’ve sold the technology, not the art.”
‘Well, if I gave you an electric guitar, would you instantly become Eric Clapton?’ He didn’t know who Eric Clapton was, so the point was lost. Okun: It’s the auteur theory gone berserk. There weren’t auteurs before the 1960s; they were egomaniacs, which is different from an auteur. Then auteurs hit big in the ’60s and ’70s, and we had an explosion of creative people and product. But for an auteur to work, people who know what they’re doing have to support the auteur — quietly. None of these auteurs acted, wrote, directed, lit, shot, edited, created visual effects, answer-printed and did the marketing. They’re auteurs in that they have final say, not because they’re doing it all. And one of the reasons we called the Production Summit was to try to address this ‘auteurism,’ which is isolationism. What we’re breeding by working this way is insecurity. There’s no time for learning or growth; you’ve got to hit a home run right out of the gate. What’s the path for directors these days? They do their commercials and music videos, then they
get their feature film, and then they disappear. Nobody hears from them again. Goi: I’ve seen some very sophisticated work by a lot of young filmmakers, and what gives me hope is that many of
“The greatest images have always come through a spirit of collaboration.”
them recognize the value of what came before them. They recognize the value of great cinematography of the past while also recognizing that they have access to a wonderful technical toolbox today.
Okun: There are a number of visualeffects schools that teach all the tools, and the successful schools are teaching two other things. One is how to see, which is really vital, because nobody seems to understand how to see anything any more. On one film, I had to take the entire visualeffects crew out to lunch in a park once a week and point out things like how the shadows fell; they’d never paid attention to that stuff. The other thing the successful schools are teaching is the study of art. This is where my industry is really suffering. So many people don’t understand that you can tell a story with a stationary image. Look at any great painting, and there’s a story. Your eye goes somewhere, and something is transmitted. Goi: One of my favorite short films is Chris Marker’s La Jetée, which almost entirely comprises still images. I bought a book with every still image from the film in it, and I found it was very unsatisfying. What makes the movie satisfying is that the progression of those images is edited to a certain pace and combined with music and
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narration to create the feel of the film, and the book just cannot capture that because it isolates one element. It was an interesting lesson that I haven’t forgotten. Those images are very compelling, but they are more compelling within the context of the film. Okun: If you isolate what everybody does, it doesn’t have the same power and impact it has when it’s all brought together. There’s a real power to the synergy of delivering something far and above what anybody can do individually. And it seems that today, we are being encouraged to isolate ourselves rather than come together. That’s why we called our event the Production Summit instead of the VES Summit. We’re not an island, and we’re trying to take a very open and broad stab at saying, ‘We love what we do, and we’d really love to do it with you.’ Goi: The Hard Day’s Night DVD has an interview with the man who was the head of the studio that greenlit the movie when nobody understood exactly what a Beatles movie was going to be. He was
asked what role he played in the film’s success, and he said, ‘I hired fiscally responsible, incredibly creative people, and I didn’t do a damn thing. I let them do their job and didn’t interfere.’ Okun: Where are those guys today?! Experience isn’t valued very much anymore. When I do lectures at film schools, I always bring a roll of film with me and pass it around. It used to be funny, but now people really say, ‘Wow, what are the little holes on the side for?’ I have to explain how we got to where we are today. It’s sad. We’re losing the heritage; we’re losing the experience pool. Goi: All of this is a process. Certainly the industry is shaking itself down, and while that’s going on, there’s a certain strength that can be found amongst the below-the-line people — all of us who have been laboring in the business all of our lives to make our end of it better. Despite the chaos happening on the upper end, we can make sure that our end of it, our crafts, don’t succumb to this kind of chipping away.
Okun: My work at the VES has been a yearlong examination of why the Society exists and whether it should continue. We’ve decided that we’re in business to form a trusted community to ensure that the artists and the business thrive. Now we’re in a position to start reaching out to all the crafts and try to create joint events. It’s all about communication. In June, we’ll publish The VES Handbook of Visual Effects, our equivalent of the American Cinematographer Manual, and we’re also going to do another Production Summit this year. It won’t be a repeat of last year’s, either. Every year it will be radically different, but it will always involve all of the verticals. And the goal will always be to look forward and get conversations going. ●
New Products & Services Arri Unveils Alexa Prototype By Benjamin B Arri recently unveiled a working prototype of its Alexa digital camera at the Micro Salon show of the AFC (French Association of Cinematographers) in Paris and the Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “We are delighted with the response we have had around the world so far regarding the concept of Alexa and, now, the working prototype,” says Stephan Schenk, general manager of Arri’s Camera & DIS Business Unit, who presented the camera with cinematographer Frank van Vught in Paris. “At Arri we endeavor to give creative professionals the tools to tell their stories, and we are confident that Alexa’s cutting-edge technology will do this perfectly.” The Alexa is Arri’s first model in its new generation of digital cameras. Compact, lightweight and robust, the Alexa is also the first camera from Arri that will feature an electronic viewfinder; based on auto-calibrating LED technology, it is designed for accurate color rendition and minimal image delay. Schenk says the Alexa offers a base sensitivity of 800 ASA, low noise and latitude “that exceeds 13 stops.” The 16:9 imaging area is similar to that of Super 35 and can be used with 35mm lenses, offering the same field of view and depth of field as 35mm film. A provision for 10-percent overscan allows the operator to see outside the frame lines in the electronic viewfinder. The Alexa offers a generous number of output signals and methods including onboard recording options and multiple live HD and ArriRaw outputs. It has dedicated buttons for record, playback, ramping and image grabs. Van Vught notes that the menu is “designed for simplicity, like an iPod.” The home screen features controls for frame rate, shutter angle, EI, LUTs and color temperature. The Alexa sensor is a single CMOS with a Bayer mask and a 3.5K pixel count. The camera electronics apply dual gain pathways, with separate amplification for the highlights and lowlights, a strategy designed to stretch the latitude and minimize noise. “In a given image area, fewer, bigger pixels will yield more sensitivity and latitude than more numerous, smaller pixels,” says ASC associate member Stephan Ukas-Bradley from Arri’s product-management team, who presented the Alexa with Arri CTO Glenn Kennel at Rancho Mirage. “Alexa’s 3.5K pixel count is determined to give the best sensitivity and latitude, while still insuring image quality at 2K projection for the finished project.” Some major announcements are still to come. “Probably the most frequently asked question refers to our storage solution,” says 92
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Kennel. “We are really excited to unveil the workflow solutions and recording options at NAB in Las Vegas, and we invite the whole feature film and TV industry to come to our booth.” For more information, visit www.arridigital.com. Hot Rod Cameras Customizes Canon DSLRs At the urging of professional cinematographers, Hot Rod Cameras, LLC has introduced a custom modification service for the Canon 7D, 5D and 1D Mk 4 DSLR cameras. The streamlined process modifies the cameras’ standard lens mount, allowing the use of 35mm PL-mount cinema lenses. “Working with lenses designed for still photography is perhaps the biggest impediment to using HDSLR cameras on a professional set,” says cinematographer Daniel Kanes. “With the Hot Rod 7D-PL, I am able to seamlessly integrate lightweight HDSLR technology on a professional motion-picture set with several other camera systems. It’s an amazing breakthrough using pro cinema lenses on a camera of this size and capability.” For full details, including a list of compatible lenses and warranty service information, visit www.hotrodcameras.com. Panasonic Offers Full HD 3-D Camcorder Panasonic Broadcast has begun taking orders for the AG3DA1, a professional-quality, fully integrated Full HD 3-D camcorder with SD media-card recording. “The AG-3DA1 will democratize 3-D production by giving professional videographers a more affordable and simple solution for capturing immersive content, as well as provide a training tool for educators,” says John Baisley, president, Panasonic Broadcast. “As the product is positioned in a more mainstream budget category, Panasonic camcorder owners will help to accelerate the amount of 3-D content being created for distribution on new Blu-ray discs and recently announced 3-D channels like those of DirecTV.” At less than 6.6 pounds, the AG-3DA1 is equipped with dual lenses and two full 1920x1080 2.07 megapixel 3-MOS imagers to record 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p (native) and 720/60p and 50p in AVCHD. It can record for up to 180 minutes on dual 32GB SD cards in Panasonic’s professional AVCHD PH mode, and offers
professional interfaces including dual HD-SDI out, HDMI (version 1.4), two XLR connectors, built-in stereo microphone and twinlens camera remotes. Unlike current 3-D systems, the AG3DA1 integrates the lenses, camera head and dual Memory Card recorder into a single, lightweight body. The camcorder also incorporates stereoscopic adjustment controls making it easier to use and operate: The twin-lens system allows adjustment of the convergence point, and functions for automatically correcting horizontal and vertical displacement are also provided. Right and Left Full HD video streams of the twin-lens camcorder can be recorded and distributed as files on SDHC/SD Memory Cards, ensuring higher reliability than tape, optical disc, HDD or other mechanical-based recording systems. This solid-state, nomoving-parts design will help significantly reduce maintenance costs, and the lightweight build provides the flexibility of handheld shooting. Setup and transportation are also simplified, making the camcorder ideal for sports, documentary and filmmaking projects. In addition to the camcorder, Panasonic announced the BT-3DL2550, a 25" professional-quality 3-D LCD monitor for field use, and the AG-HMX100, a professional HD digital AV mixer for live 3-D event production. Panasonic is committed to offering professional production equipment for efficiently creating 3-D content so consumers can enjoy 3-D video using Panasonic 3-D home-theater systems. The AG-3DA1 has a suggested retail price of $21,000. For more information, visit http://pro-av.panasonic.net/en/3d. Band Pro Announces Mystery Primes During its annual One World on HD event, Band Pro Film and Digital introduced a new brand of ultra-high performance PLmount prime lenses designed to deliver optical performance for true 4K imaging and beyond. Called Mystery Primes, the T1.4 lenses will eventually total 15 different focal lengths; the core set of lenses, scheduled to begin delivery in June, will comprise 16, 18, 21, 25, 35, 40, 50, 65, 75 and 100mm focal lengths. The entire set features unified
distance focus scales, common size and location of focus and iris rings, and a 95mm threaded lens front, all of which allow for quick interchange of lenses in a busy production environment. Additionally, the rear of the PL mount features an integrated threaded net ring. “A unique use of aspheric technology and cutting-edge mechanical cine-lens design provides the Mystery Primes with unmatched evenness of illumination across the entire 35mm frame and into the corners
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with no discernible breathing,” says ASC associate member Michael Bravin, Band Pro’s chief technologist. “Suppression of color fringing into the farthest corners of the frame is superior to any lenses I have ever seen.” Designed to be lightweight yet rugged on the set, the mount and lens
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barrel are manufactured using lightweight high-strength titanium materials; a typical Mystery Prime weighs just 3 pounds. The first 25 sets of lenses will be delivered to Otto Nemenz International, whose experienced team provided invaluable user input from the beginning of the design process. For additional information, visit www.bandpro.com. Manfrotto Intros 504HD Fluid Head Manfrotto has unveiled the 504HD fluid head, which boasts an increased load capacity resulting from the company’s patented Bridging Technology. Thanks to the 504HD’s bridge design, the pan friction control is intuitive, easy to set and protected against knocks. Movement around the pan and tilt axes is smoothed by ball-bearing units, which remove all unwanted vibration regardless of operating temperature. Furthermore, friction control combines with a step counterbalance system that covers the full weight range to allow the 504HD to be fine-tuned with extreme precision for the exact in-shot movement needed. The head’s Fluid Drag System (FDS) is variable and directly controls action and resistance on both axes; the ergonomic controls have been noticeably improved to make using the FDS even easier. The 504HD supports kits weighing up to 16.5 pounds, and two 3⁄8" threads on the top plate allow accessories — such as monitors and arms — to be fitted directly to the head, eliminating the need for extra clamps, saving setup time and freeing the video camera’s hot shoe. For additional information, visit www.manfrotto.com. OConnor Debuts Accessory Line Fluid head innovator OConnor, a Vitec Group brand, has announced a line of professional camera accessories engineered to fulfill the needs of today’s high-end cinematography. “For 60 years, OConnor fluid heads and tripods have been valued tools for the art of movie making,” says Bob Carr, president of the Vitec Group business unit Camera Dynamics Inc. “The new accessory line continues the OConnor tradition of
supporting the cinematographer’s art with industry-leading engineering and craftsmanship, tailored to the rapidly changing landscape of new cameras.” To ensure these new tools meet OConnor’s high standards, the company has chosen Jim Elias to head the design team; Elias brings extensive experience as a camera assistant to the engineering process. Another film-industry veteran, Eric J. Johnston, has been appointed product specialist; Eric is already interfacing with working camera people to get on-the-set feedback and integrate their needs into the product designs. The first OConnor camera accessory is a completely modular cine-style followfocus system. The compact and low-profile unit enables quick, tool-free mounting on standard rod systems. The follow focus is compatible with all standard follow-focus accessories and driver gears, and it integrates elegantly with all camera and lens systems in use. Further products in the range will be announced as they are released. As with the entire OConnor family, the camera accessories are backed by the company’s expert customer support and service departments. According to Carr, “Because the new follow focus is designed for modular versatility and compatibility with other systems, the smartly priced system should be extremely popular with rental houses and users who own a number of different camera and lens combinations.” The OConnor cine-style follow focus is scheduled to begin delivery this month. For more information, visit www.ocon.com. Gekko Highlights Kezia LEDs Gekko Technology has introduced two major additions to its range of LED lighting systems. The Kezia 50 and Kezia 200 are hard-sourced LED luminaires based on Gekko’s kleer-color light engine, with variants for film, television and entertainment. “The Kezia 50 and 200 offer film and television lighting directors and cameramen precise, tuneable whites and dimming under local or DMX control,” explains David Amphlett, managing director of Gekko Technology. “As well as tuneable whites in the 2900° to 6500°K range, the entertainment version can also produce millions of other
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colors. The capacity of the lamp to generate high quality whites reduces the need for multiple sources with different capabilities.â€? The Kezia 50 is comparable in output brightness to a 250-watt tungsten Fresnel lamp head, yet it consumes only 50 watts of electrical power. The Kezia 200 boasts a brightness similar to a 1K tungsten source while consuming only 190 watts of power. The fixtures also generate far less heat than traditional fixtures, and both use unique color-feedback technology to ensure consistent color-temperature quality as ambient conditions change or the unit ages. Color temperature accuracy also remains constant as the fixtures are dimmed. For additional information, visit www.gekkotechnology.com. Tangohead Enables 3-D Production Tangohead, a supplier of camera support equipment for the film and video industry, has introduced the 3D Stereo Tango universal beam-splitter rig for 3-D productions.
Offset Mitchell Levelers from GFM Grip Factory Munich has introduced a standard Mitchell 3-Way Leveler as well as a range of Offset Euro-to-Mitchell Arms, which are available with 3- or 4-Way Levelers. The strong, long-lasting, surface-hardened camera mounts are machined from high-grade aluminum, and they can be used with most standard dollies or as standalone units. Additionally, GFMâ€™s Offset Euro-toEuro Brackets and Extension Tubes allow
users to add height and angle adjustability, further increasing the possibilities. For additional information, visit www.g-f-m.net.
Made of custom-molded carbon fiber, the 3D Stereo Tango provides precise control over the alignment of left- and righteye cameras being used to record stereoscopic images. Each camera is adjustable on its optical axis and at the intersection point of the optical axes on the beam splitter. Interocular adjustments (from 0 to 90mm) are motorized and interface with standard wireless lens-control systems such as Arri, Cmotion, Scorpio and Preston. Convergence adjustments can be motorized or made manually.
The 50/50 beam splitter is fixed at 45 degrees, and the left- and right-eye cameras are independently adjustable over six axes: tilt, roll, convergence, side-to-side, up-anddown and front-to-back. Assisted by a digital protractor and custom PL-mounted twinlaser boresights, camera alignments are fast, smooth, precise and repeatable. Each alignment is individually locked, preventing drifting during production, and each is referenced with graduations and indexes. A large and fully adjustable carbon fiber light shield is also provided to control stray light on set.
The camera-agnostic 3D Stereo Tango can accept any film or video camera weighing up to 66 pounds (for a maximum total load weight of 132 pounds). The rig is also compatible with standard Arri accessories, including filter frames, filter retainers, rubber bellows, sliding bridge plates and iris rods, and the rig’s design grants ready access to both cameras at all times. Additionally, multiple mounting points make it easy to attach on-board monitors, transmitters and other accessories. The 3D Stereo Tango can be mounted on a fluid head, geared head or remote head. The rig is delivered in a custom, sturdy, welded-aluminum travel case with wheels. For additional information, visit www.tangohead.com.
Kaczek Visuals Launches Reflect Lighting System Following a long period of development, evaluation and use on such features as The White Ribbon (shot by Christian Berger, AAC), La Bohème (Walter Kindler, BVK, AAC) and Revanche (Martin Gschlacht, AAC), Kaczek Visuals’ Reflect Lighting System is now on the market. The RLS is an innovative lighting system for film, television, still photography, stage productions and event presentations. The system is based on reflection; specially designed RLS spotlights are directed onto RLS reflectors, which shape the light and transmit it with minimal loss. The wide selection of reflective surfaces — each available in four different sizes — allow targeted light distribution and offer plenty of leeway when designing the form and structure of the light. A great variety of lighting ambiences or effects can be achieved using the different structures and coatings of the RLS reflectors. The extremely efficient reflective quality (between 85 and 98 percent) enables combined and multiple light redirections.
The best results are achieved with spotlights, such as Kaczek Visuals’ Fred-Beam 70/1200 (1.2K HMI) and the Fred-Beam 40/800 (800-watt HMI), which can be positioned further away from the set, mitigating both noise and temperature. In comparison with conventional lighting equipment, the RLS’ power consumption is considerably lower and leaves the set almost free of equipment and cables; this also minimizes storage space and transportation requirements. Cinematographer Frédéric-Gérard Kaczek, AAC has also developed carrying bags and a set of lightweight magnetic holders (the MagNeck and the MagBall), which allow fast changing and accurate positioning of the reflectors while providing the required rigidity. For additional information, visit www.kaczekvisuals.com. ●
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Parker Named Honorary Member During the 24th annual ASC Awards, ASC President Michael Goi took to the stage alongside Ralph Woolsey, ASC to deliver a surprise announcement: Larry Parker, executive vice president of Mole-Richardson Co., has been names an honorary member of the Society. The grandson of Mole-Richardson co-founder Peter Mole, Parker followed in the family business and tradition of manufacturing lighting equipment designed to satisfy the creative needs of filmmakers. Parker’s collaborative spirit and appreciation for cinematographers’ art and craft earned him associate membership in the ASC in 1977. He has also taught countless lighting workshops out of Mole-Richardson’s Hollywood facility, offering emerging filmmakers an opportunity to learn fundamentals in an interactive, hands-on environment. “Larry Parker may very well be one of the most influential individuals in the industry,” says Goi. “He has personally helped educate a large number of young filmmakers as to the nuts and bolts of their craft through the resources of MoleRichardson, and he holds the torch of respect high for the men and women who choose cinematography as their life work. Larry’s influence and generosity will be felt in this business for decades to come, every time one of his students steps onto a set or follows his example and teaches another young filmmaker respect for the tools and the craft. His selfless devotion to the people who create moving images makes him a 102
Leighton Becomes Associate After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in radio, television and film from San Francisco State University, new associate member Doug Leighton built a substantial foundation of practical experience over 12 years as a freelancer. He then founded RTS Systems, where he served for 16 years as vice president of marketing. After RTS’ successful sale, he worked for 360 Systems, ASC Audio Video Corp., Preferred Video Products and Scitex Digital Video. In 2000, Leighton joined Panasonic Broadcast and Television Systems Co. as a product marketing manager. In 2001, he was made district sales account manager, his current title. Leighton has also distinguished himself as a regular contributor to the Society’s Technology Committee and Camera Subcommittee. Filmtools Hosts ASC Seminars The last week of February marked Filmtools’ Manfrotto Distribution Sale and Filter Trade-In Event, which the equipment and expendables retailer enlivened with a day of seminars presented by ASC members. Rexford Metz, ASC kicked off the series with a focus on optical filtration for HD shooting; Henner Hoffman, ASC, AMC then discussed new ways of expresAmerican Cinematographer
sion for emerging filmmakers; and a seminar by Dean Semler, ASC, ACS capped the day’s events. “Art of Light” Celebrates Deschanel, Menges In the week leading up to the ASC Awards, the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s screening series “The Art of Light” honored the work of International Award and Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Chris Menges, ASC, BSC and Caleb Deschanel, ASC, respectively. Menges attended a screening of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he photographed for director Tommy Lee Jones; following the screening, the cinematographer participated in a conversation with ASC publicist Bob Fisher. Deschanel’s work was celebrated with a screening of The Natural, which he shot for director Barry Levinson. Bailey on Silverado John Bailey, ASC recently joined director Lawrence Kasdan and editor Carol Littleton for a 70mm screening of their 1985 film Silverado at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre. Following the screening, the filmmakers took to the stage for an audience Q&A. Pros Judge DSLR Contests Shane Hurlbut, ASC is joining photographer Alexx Henry and Frank Rohmer of Rohmer Video Productions on a panel of judges for a DSLR-shot short-film contest sponsored by Samy’s Camera. Hurlbut is also joining Russell Carpenter, ASC and Rodney Charters, ASC on a panel of judges for the Canon U.S.A.-sponsored “Story Beyond the Still” contest, supported by Grey New York and hosted by Vimeo. Joining the ASC members on the judges’ bench are filmmakers Stu Maschwitz, Rick McCallum and Philip Bloom, photographer Vincent Laforet, Vimeo’s Blake Whitman and Grey New York’s Nick Childs. ●
Photo by Logan Schneider.
ASC honorary member Larry Parker (left).
true friend and ally. This honorary membership is the most definitive way we have of expressing the profound respect we have for him.” “I’ve always wanted to be a director of photography, and I have the utmost respect for their immeasurable talent, so receiving this honor means the world to me,” says Parker. “The ASC has always supported me in helping with the education of young filmmakers, and that’s what I intend to keep doing. “I love the ASC; I love what it stands for; I love the people in it, and to be recognized by them is unbelievable,” Parker continues. “I am so grateful and will remember this evening for the rest of my life. I’m still floating!”
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Rene Ohashi, ASC, CSC
When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you? In the late 1960s, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film Dr. Strangelove (1964), which impressed me more than any film I’d ever seen. It was satirical, fantastic, comedic, serious, suspenseful and realistic. Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire, and why? Gordon Willis, ASC created an outstanding array of innovative work in films such as The Godfather, whose use of color, light and shadow became the model for how future period films would be shot; Manhattan, with its perfection of formal tableau; and Zelig, which took the archival-film look to a new level. Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC taught me about style with The Conformist and theatricality with Apocalypse Now. With Seven, Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC taught me about darkness and mood. Other cinematographers I admire include ASC members Jordan Cronenweth, Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki, who have all made memorable contributions to the art. What sparked your interest in photography? I’ve always had an inherent disposition toward visual imagery. Drawing and painting were my early passions. Stills photography became another means of expression and exploration. I discovered the power of the image through great masters of photography like Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Eugene Smith and André Kertész. Where did you train and/or study? I completed a four-year film-studies program at York University in Toronto while working part-time as a camera assistant on documentary films. Who were your early teachers or mentors? I studied with teachers at film school and worked with documentary filmmakers too numerous to name. I am grateful for the knowledge they all passed on to me. My work is an accumulation and evolution of ideas, inspiration, concepts from movies I studied and technical books I read, and I’ve gleaned techniques from the cinematographers whose aesthetic I most admired. American Cinematographer has played a key role in providing me with insight about cinematographers and their artistry. What are some of your key artistic influences? I have always been inspired by the clarity of vision of Ansel Adams’ landscapes and have incorporated his Zone System to achieve technical precision in my own images. I admire the sensitive treatment of light and dark and the meticulous composition in paintings by Vermeer. In addition, there are many cinematographers whose mastery and innovation have influenced me.
How did you get your first break in the business? I had a neighbor who worked as a documentary cameraman. I asked him to teach me everything he knew about filmmaking. I was 16, and I became his assistant. What has been your most satisfying moment on a project? When I sit down and watch the completed film for the first time; it’s my creative vision expressed as a unified entity. Have you made any memorable blunders? Because I had worked independently in stills and documentaries, when I first started shooting dramas, I forgot to delegate, trust and interface with all the departments. I had to learn to work with everyone on the crew. You cannot make a movie by yourself. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received? Have a clear vision, design and objective for every scene. Then, by lighting with your instincts along with your intention and setting your own level of excellence, you will find satisfaction. What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you? I recently saw a memorable exhibition of Edward Steichen photographs and Alexander Calder sculptures in the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. They all inspire diverse ways of seeing. Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try? I am open to all genres. My interest is in what opportunities any script will present for visual exploration and creativity. If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead? I would be an architect. Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership? Steven Poster. How has ASC membership impacted your life and career? To me, ASC membership represents excellence and high standards in the field of cinematography. I have aspired to have those same standards. There are so many ASC members whose professional achievements I highly respect, and they have been my mentors throughout my career. To be invited to become a member is the greatest honor that’s been bestowed on me. ●
ONFILM M AT T H E W W E I N E R
“Writers were idolized in my home. My parents had a big poster picture of Ernest Hemingway on a wall in a hallway in our house. I thought I was going to be a poet and that I would ﬁnd some other profession, teaching or something, to support me. After I graduated from ﬁlm school at the University of Southern California, it was about 10 years before I got a paying job in the industry, but I never gave myself a time limit. I wrote the pilot episode for Mad Men in 1999 at night while I already had a job, and ﬁnally got it produced in 2006. After that wait, it seemed silly to compromise, and luckily AMC made it clear they wanted it on 35 mm ﬁlm because it would be programmed between classic movies. To me, Mad Men is a series of ﬁlms. When I write a script, I am telling a story that comes from my heart.” Matthew Weiner is a writer-producer-director whose television credits range from comedies to dramas. He has earned multiple Emmy® Awards and nominations for The Sopranos and Mad Men, and Television Producer of the Year Awards from the Producers Guild of America. [All these shows were shot on Kodak motion picture ﬁlm.] For an extended interview with Matthew Weiner, visit www.kodak.com/go/onﬁlm. To order Kodak motion picture ﬁlm, call (800) 621-ﬁlm. www.motion.kodak.com © Eastman Kodak Company, 2010. Photography: © 2009 Douglas Kirkland
Published on Jul 11, 2010