As the follow-up to Marvel’s $850 million-grossing Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 had some large shoes to fill. The first Guardians installment was a rare creature, a financial and critical success. The film earned massive grosses worldwide, becoming a huge hit for Marvel and Disney. Writer/Director James Gunn teamed with British cinematographer Henry Braham, BSC, to lens the film. Braham and Gunn turned to L.A./London-based post-production house SHED to provide a solution for the complex workflow that would be needed as the filming began.
The Hateful Eight is the taut and talkative american western mystery movie, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The $44m, Weinstein Company production, stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern.
StubHub Wants You to Stop Microwaving Sad Dinners and Experience Events Instead
We’ve all been there: microwaving leftovers and spending time on the couch instead of going out and enjoying live concerts or sporting events. StubHub is encouraging people to do the latter in its new brand identity campaign, which launches today.
Why DP Roman Vasyanov Chose Anamorphic & More Tales from Shooting 'Suicide Squad'
Why DP Roman Vasyanov Chose Anamorphic & More Tales from Shooting 'Suicide Squad'.
This Powerade Spot Will Be Among the Most Hard-Hitting of the Rio Games
Powerade pulls no punches whatsoever in this spot from Wieden + Kennedy Portland starring 19-year-old amateur boxer and U.S. Olympian Shakur Stevenson.
Ant-Man requires a unique perspective
Ant-Man is a comic-book superhero who uses a special suit to shrink in size while gaining in strength. In the latest Marvel creation for the big screen, Ant-Man’s adventures involve a battle against a foe who uses similar technology for nefarious ends. The project, directed by Peyton Reed and photographed by Russell Carpenter ASC, extends the strong and successful working relationship between Marvel and Codex, which includes Marvel standardizing on Codex recording and workflow technology.
Prior to Ant-Man, Carpenter, an Oscar winner for James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997, had taken a long break from the visual effects-heavy blockbusters he had done in the 1990s, like True Lies, Charlie’s Angels and Hard Target. Ant-Man provided the cinematographer with an opportunity to revisit the action genre while simultaneously tackling a range of unique photographic challenges.
Issues of scale and how to convincingly present it to the audience dominated most of the decisions about cinematography and visual effects. For guidance, the filmmakers looked at films with similar characters going all the way back to Darby O’Gill and the Little People, photographed with extensive forced perspective and giant props in 1959 by Winton Hoch ASC.
Carpenter had explored miniature humans in Frank Oz’s 1995 feature The Indian in the Cupboard, and the opposite in Christopher Guest’s Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1993), but in the interim, a technological revolution allowed for a completely different approach on Ant-Man.
“Even in the past four or five years, the technology has advanced light-years,” says Carpenter. “It’s so much more stable and heavy-duty. On a lengthy shoot with several units going, I don’t think we ever had a failure. With the ALEXA, ARRI has totally upped their game, and the same major leap was taken by Codex, which was reliable and invisible. It was a completely different ballgame. Between what our DIT and our loader were doing, I really didn’t have to pay much attention!”
Carpenter and director Peyton Reed were brought onto the project late after the original director-DP team dropped out, making every second precious. They thought carefully about aspect ratio during a compressed prep period. A widescreen 2.35:1 frame seemed right for a Marvel spectacle, but in the end they chose a 1.85:1 image give a little more top and bottom space to help communicate size relationships.
“We found that in the films in the past that didn’t cut the mustard, part of the reason was the inability to move the camera in a way that was convincing or involving,” says Carpenter. “So we looked to the commercial world, and found Rebecca Baehler, who works in tabletop and macro photography. She knows how to make things look like landscapes and she knows how to work quickly with small motion control rigs and other tools. I looked at her reel, and I thought it was fantastic.”
Carpenter points out that many Marvel films take place in fantastical environments. Ant-Man unfolds in more mundane locales – a living room or an office building, for example. Convincing CG and a seamless blend with the live-action elements would be crucial to success. Sometimes a bit of imperfection was introduced into the CG camera movement and framing to help sell the illusion.
Colors needed to have a lived-in quality. Ant-Man’s suit, for example, shows some wear and age. Locations in San Francisco and sets at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, Georgia were similarly realistic.
“I did some tests and found that the LUT that Trent Opaloch used on Captain America: Winter Soldier gave the reds in the suit a muted, slightly old feel,” says Carpenter. “I made a couple of tweaks to that LUT to make sure the flesh tones were pleasing and the blacks were right, and it felt good to me. I knew I wanted to set exposure with room to move around if that was needed. The LUT gave me a safety net – I knew that if I needed to get something out, there’d still be information there.”
The cameras were ARRI ALEXA XTs along with an ALEXA M, with Codex recording and media capturing Open Gate ARRIRAW. The glass included a set of Panavision Primo V lenses, which are optimized for digital sensors, and Primo and Optimo zooms. Frazier lenses and Technik Skater Scopes were also essential to get the perspective of a half-inch-tall protagonist.
It was important to Carpenter that the image his collaborators were seeing had the full richness, rather than just a Rec 709 representation. Digilab – now part of SHED in Santa Monica – handled the data wrangling and dailies. Stephen Ceci of Digilab/SHED worked closely with digital imaging technician Rafel Montoya and data management supervisor Kyle Spicer.
Codex Vaults were a key piece of the workflow, for data management and archiving. Marvel owns three Codex Vaults. Two Vaults were set up near the sets at Pinewood, along with 170 terabytes of storage. Initial color timing was done with a Colorfront system and a Dolby PRM-4200, a high-end, super accurate monitor. Everything was accessible online so that VFX, for example, could get quick turnarounds without waiting for LTO versions to be delivered to Technicolor. That additional efficiency was especially important given the truncated schedule.
Spicer would clean the metadata using an on-set Vault, making sure the scene and take info was correct and adding lens and other specs. Data from eight-terabyte Codex Transfer Drives was ingested to the SAN, and copied to LTO tape. Then production would get the green light to wipe and reuse the original capture drives.
High frame rates were an important part of the shoot, especially the macro photography. “We had an 18-terabyte day, my largest day ever, and we didn’t miss a beat,” says Ceci. “Data management is the concern – filmmakers want to know that their data is secure. If you can alleviate those concerns, with all the checks and balances in place, a DP and an editorial team can go back to shooting and creating the image. That’s the way it should be, and it seems like we’ve gotten away from that over the past 15 years.”
Ceci says that the macro footage on Ant-Man was amazing. “It was a lot of fun,” he says. “We processed the material much like any other, but you don’t work on a lot of shows with this amount of macro footage, with controlled rigs shooting high speed. Matching that to the main unit footage was a fun challenge."
Ant-Man was released on July 17, 2015. According to Box Office Mojo, the film made enough money to cover its $130 million budget in the first six days of release.
SHED first to install Baselight's Generation VI
FilmLight is headquartered in London, where its research, design and manufacturing operations are centred. Sales and support are conducted through regional service centres and qualified partners worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.filmlight.ltd.uk
A stellar achievement on the making of Gravity
Gravity dominated the 2014 awards season, scooping major honours at the Oscars, BAFTA, Golden Globes and ASC Awards.
It’s little wonder that Gravity proved such a huge success. Warner Bros’ thrilling and visually-amazing movie, about two astronauts attempting to return to Earth after a calamitous crash, took imaginary creation to even more mesmerizing and crowd-pleasing heights.
For Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón imagined how it might feel to be stuck in space without a spaceship, slowly running out of oxygen, dodging debris. His former film school chum and long-time collaborator Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki AMC ASC says that the idea appealed to Cuarón in part because of its elemental nature.
“We wanted it to be very simple,” says Lubezki. “Four or five years ago, we planned on doing it in Europe with a tiny crew of just a few people. It was geared to be cheap, with one or two great actors. The script was really brilliant and beautiful. There are no guns, and no bad guys, which I love. What’s against these characters is the force of gravity.” The irony, of course, is that Gravity became one of the most technically-demanding projects ever attempted. A wide range of techniques were considered and tested for Gravity. These included underwater tanks, mirrors, greenscreen, robot-controlled moving lights, wire rigs and even the “vomit comet,” which involves shooting in a Jumbo Jet that creates zero-G conditions by plunging earthward for a few seconds.
During this exploratory period, Lubezki went to see Peter Gabriel perform at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles. “He had the most beautiful lighting I’ve seen at a concert in many years,” says the cinematographer. “Incredibly sophisticated. All of it was done with massive LED panels – not the ones that are made for film, obviously. They are not colour-balanced. They have flicker and all sorts of issues, because what they are really, is a massive TV made out of LEDs. I was looking at the concert and I said, ‘Bam! That’s a way to do the movie."
The filmmakers designed and built a “lightbox” made up of LED panels, dubbed “The Cage.”
“Tim Webber, the visual effects supervisor from Framestore, became interested in the cube,” says Lubezki. “People were worried, but we began working on it together. It was exciting because besides being the tool we would use to accomplish the movie, it was a beautiful object.”
The interior of the cube was made up of 196 2 x 2’ LED panels, fitted with 4,096 LED bulbs. The LED panels would simulate the light coming from stars and the sun and reflected light from earth, but could also project images of Earth, distant stars, or, when Cuarón was feeling playful, images of Sandra Bullock’s children, as the actor was suspended within. A physicist helped Lubezki calculate the distance and apparent size of the Earth and other celestial objects so that the bounce light looked and felt as real as possible. The story unfolds over one Earth day, so the movements of the planets were calculated as well. Complex interplay between the movements of actors, “The Cage,” other lighting, and the camera helped sell the illusion. The actors are in spacesuits for big chunks of the film, making CG replacement easier when necessary.
Lubezki credits Codex Recorders as one of the indispensable tools that made Gravity possible. “Codex enabled us to reliably extract the full latitude and quality of the Alexa, which no other camera has”, he says. “The amount of information and the quality of the information is far superior. It helped immensely.”
Digilab (now SHED) was on hand to handle all the data and apply looks according to Lubezki’s specifications. Digilab helped Lubezki design dozens of looks for various situations, and about 20 were used for the majority of the film. Digilab also set up a near-set screening room, and Codex Vault was used for on-set data wrangling.
“It was very important for me to be able to shoot and immediately go to that screening room and give a certain look to the material, so the visual effects artists could base their work on what I was giving them,” says Lubezki. “The Codex-Digilab team was with me constantly. They were key contributors to this film, and we never had any problems.”
“Gravity was incredibly colour-critical,” says technical director James Eggleton of Digilab. “It was the most colour-critical project we’ve done to date because we were shooting elements that needed to be integrated with CG. Anything that was lit had to work in the digital realm and actually, on-set. You had to know what you were looking at on the monitor. Since it was set in space, the palette of whites was crucial. Everyone’s colour acuity got very good over the period of doing that one. We had three colour monitors on set.
“In terms of the looks, we tried to do very gentle looks that would compensate for different types of light,” he says. “That allowed Chivo to shoot parts of the scene under LED light and then shoot under tungsten light, with the end result intercutting seamlessly. Once the menu of looks had been locked down and approved by Chivo, he could basically dial in the look himself, sometimes with slight printer light adjustments. It was very, very disciplined, and it had to be because there were so many visual effects downstream. That information had to be communicated through all the visual effect vendors and the post, and it had to be visible in the final product. So it was all about communicating what we had seen on set.”
The additional data in the ARRIRAW files, gathered through the Codex workflow, came in handy for the extensive CG and visual effects work. “Even when we were shooting fairly traditional live action scenes, there was quite a lot of work to do to join shots together to make it appear as though two different takes were all one continuous shot,” says Webber. “The dynamic range in the ARRIRAW 3K images gave us flexibility and quality, and enabled us to achieve things that would have been very difficult or impossible otherwise. I certainly didn’t have to worry about the Codex side of things.”
Lubezki also depended on the extra colour-depth and resolution during post production. “Many digital cameras have so little information compared to film,” he says. “When you make a tiny change in the DI, these changes appear to be massive. Things can get clogged very easily. Codex gave us a little more latitude, almost the latitude that we are used to. So to have all that information available to us was very important.
“Almost every piece of equipment that we used to do the movie was either custom-made for the movie or was just coming out on the market and in beta testing,” says Lubezki. “Six months earlier, we could not have made this movie the way we did it. We could not have done it without the special robotic camera mount that was built for us, Framestore, the Master Prime lenses, or the Codex Recorders.”
Armed to the teeth for Vampire Academy
Tony Pierce-Roberts BSC chooses ALEXA, Codex and Digilab on Vampire Academy.
Vampire Academy is based on a best-selling series of young adult novels by Richelle Mead. Shot through with a streak of humor, the tale follows the half-human, half-vampire teenager Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) as she trains at St. Vladimir’s. Director Mark Waters has an impressive string of credits, including Mean Girls and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. This time, he teamed with Tony Pierce-Roberts, BSC, a two-time Oscar and six-time BAFTA award nominee with more than 50 narrative credits, including such cinematographic landmarks as The Remains of the Day, A Room with a View and De-Lovely.
Pierce-Roberts says that Waters asked for elegant, glamorous visuals on Vampire Academy. “He didn’t want a horror film look,” says the cinematographer. “The target audience is younger and mainly female, and a pretty, cosmetic look was important to Mark as well as to the producers.”
The filmmakers chose to shoot ARRIRAW on two ARRI ALEXA Plus cameras with Zeiss Master Prime lenses and Codex Recorders. The 2.40:1 widescreen frame was extracted from the 16:9 sensor, allowing for some repositioning for visual effects shots. “For a film that will be seen on the big screen, you want as much data and detail and you can get,” says Pierce-Roberts. “I’m very pleased with the results.”
Digilab (now SHED) worked with Pierce-Roberts on the look development. The LUT they developed allowed him to see accurately adjusted images on-set, with a 24” monitor.
The production was based at Pinewood Studios, but aside from a week on sets, the majority of the film was shot on locations around London, over the course of eight weeks. The school exteriors were done in Surrey at Charterhouse School, an iconic British institution.
Pierce-Roberts describes the lighting as generally direct, but soft. “We weren’t trying to get a raw look in any way,” he says. “There were a lot of Kino Flos and diffusion, with Chimeras on every lamp, and a lot of balloon work. Everyone was focused on making the actors looking their best.”
In addition to look development, Digilab’s support extended into post production, where they performed a base conform on the ARRIRAW data as it was needed by Prime Focus, the visual effects and DI house. “Our work goes well beyond the capture side,” says John Pegg, head of production at Digilab. “As the reels are locked, we have our own internal software that allows us to very quickly retrieve data from LTO. We manage that data starting from the recording, to the use of Codex Vault on set, and through post. Our expertise means that we can add efficiency and dependability at every stage.
“For example, using Codex Vault on or near the set means that you can keep the capture drives local,” he says. “That means you can rent fewer drives, saving money. Meanwhile, you can effectively manage, QC and archive that data using the LTO module. It’s a complete solution to the whole process.”
Pierce-Roberts agrees. “Codex Vault worked brilliantly,” he says. “My DIT was able to duplicate and download everything there and then, instead of sending the drives back to base, which saved a lot of time. It’s a very small box, and a very good, compact system.”
Freelance colourist Adam Inglis worked under Pierce-Roberts’ direction on the DI. “Tony is a very experienced DP, and his images certainly didn’t need recreating in the grade,” says Inglis. “The main tool we used was Baselight 4.4’s colour science, which is great. As a tool, I think Baselight can’t be beaten. It’s so sensibly designed and flexible. You can use it in whichever way you find most comfortable and never feel like you’re running out of firepower or fighting against the software.”
Inglis graded in wide-gamut logC for a P3 display. “I like this workflow as it gives us a good starting point and allows us to work just like we used to in the film days, but without having to use a print LUT,” he says. “Once you’ve got your head round it, it makes life so much easier. This is currently one of the best things about Baselight. I don’t know any other system that has anything comparable.”
Asked how he responded to the resulting images, Pierce-Roberts says, “What I liked most about the Alexa was that when I saw it projected, to me, it looked like film. People have suggested cameras with higher definition, but I said to the director, ‘Would you really want it any sharper than this? It looks perfect to me.’ And he agreed, saying that more resolution only adds to your problems, and brings along more data that must be dealt with in the cutting room.”
Pierce-Roberts had previously used ALEXA on Home of the Brave. “For me, what’s good about the Alexa now is that it is becoming a standard,” he says. “Because for the last few years, every six months or so, someone comes up with a new piece of gear, and every time we’d go out and do a job, we’d have to read a 500-page manual before we’d start. The Alexa is very film crew-friendly. It is starting to become a kind of standard so that you can go on to your next job not having to spend the first few days reading up on all this guff about electronics that you don’t really want to know, frankly.”
Pegg says that he’s pleased that Pierce-Roberts’ first ARRIRAW shoot went smoothly. “We wanted to make it as comfortable as possible for him,” says Pegg. “Sometimes using a collection of equipment to do the same job can be quite confusing. There’s an inconsistency to the way people do things, and that can be quite off-putting. We’re trying to demystify it, to eliminate the techno-babble. Codex simplifies things, and makes the process more straightforward.”
Digilab helps Redemption probe the shadows of London’s streets
Redemption – known as Hummingbird in the UK and Crazy Joe in France – tells the story of a traumatized, homeless veteran straining to maintain his sanity and seeking a new life on the streets of London. Jason Statham stars as the ex-Royal Marine who breaks into an apartment and assumes the dweller’s identity. He uses his military training to profit in the criminal underworld, giving his ill-gotten gains to the needy, but a thirst for vengeance may be his undoing – or lead to his redemption.
Cinematographer Chris Menges ASC BSC is a two-time Oscar winner (The Mission, The Killing Fields) whose resume also includes Michael Collins, The Reader (with Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC), Stop-Loss, Local Hero. He also shot Dirty Pretty Things, which was written by Steven Knight, the director of Redemption.
Menges’ first foray into digital cinematography for a feature film was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which he shot on the ARRI ALEXA using Codex recorders. He opted for ALEXA, Codex and ARRIRAW again for Redemption. “It’s a very good system,” he says. “I’m excited by the latitude, the color rendition – everything seems to work so well.”
Redemption was shot almost entirely on the streets of London at night, often with a handheld camera operated by Menges. “Basically, I wanted to go out and prove – to myself, I suppose – that we could shoot almost anywhere without any lights, and that’s what we endeavored to do,” says Menges. “And if we needed lights, we would just enhance practical lighting. The idea was to not have lots of trucks and a generator and lighting stuff and all of that traipsing around. Because obviously, in a city like London, parking and accessibility on narrow streets and all those things are really difficult with big trucks. So we would go very light. We didn’t even have a DIT. Going light and shooting in minimal light puts tension on other areas – obviously, on first AC Olly Tellet, for example -- but it certainly was very liberating for us and for production, and we were real pleased.”
The goal was to represent a side of London as it might actually appear to a person in the character’s situation. “I made it my business in the scouting to help choose locations that could deliver an exposure, but also an aesthetic quality,” Menges says. “That’s what we were searching for, really. By and large, we managed to do it. When you’re on the rooftops, trying to shoot action at night, and all the timed light switches start to go off, it creates some problems. You just have to go with it, and the ALEXA did really well.”
The picture was made for a reported $15 million, on a tight six-week schedule. “We had to shoot a lot of screen time every night, and that puts a lot down on the camera crew,” says Menges. “Without their flexibility and talent, we wouldn’t have achieved what we did. To go on the streets of London and shoot largely without any additional light whatsoever was good for the film, but it was also good for the budget. And the reliability we had from the equipment helped deliver the film, absolutely.”
Olly Tellet, who had worked with Robert Richardson ASC on Hugo, another ALEXA shoot, served as Menges’ first AC on Redemption. “Chris has really embraced the digital world,” he says. “He finds it quite exciting. But he is used to shooting film, so we controlled and managed it ourselves, without a DIT, and we treated the Codex just as you treat film.”
A large TVLogic monitor was set up near the set whenever possible, but Menges consulted it sparingly. “Chris didn’t spend his time worrying too much because we shot all our tests and we knew where we were going go with all of it,” says Tellet. “He knew how much latitude he had and in what places. We could just turn up and shoot, without the whole caboodle. We were free to go down alleyways, up stairwells.”
Technical director James Eggleton of Digilab (now SHED), which handled the front-end post, agrees. “Chris tested the camera, knew its sensitivity and he treated it like a film stock. We had defined the overall color characteristics of this ‘virtual film stock.’ He used his meter, light and shoot. He didn’t really need to see an immediate image because he knows the image is there to be manipulated later. If you’re doing a run-and-gun shoot, you don’t have time to sit and look at a monitor, necessarily. Different shoots have different priorities, I guess. And this one was all about keeping it small and mobile.”
Digilab helped out with look development during prep, so material from the set could be graded to match the camera tests. They also went out and shot test footage on locations that had been penciled in, developing a library of different types of practical fixtures and color temperatures that Menges would encounter during the shoot. Together, they worked up a look that could be applied to the dailies.
“We didn’t just apply a standard LUT,” says Eggleton. “We had a quite closely finessed film look, and there were essentially printer lights, as you would have with film dailies. Chris could specifically ask for something to be a bit warmer or cooler, and that would be applied to the dailies, all within the agreed-upon overall aesthetic. The DI was done at Technicolor using these developed looks as a reference.”
There were eight weeks of night shoots – four completely at night and another four with split days. The lenses were Master Primes. The 27, 40 and 50 mm focal lengths were on most often. The stop was usually between 1.3 and 2. The final aspect ratio is 2.35:1, extracted from the 16X9 sensor. The images were recorded on a Codex Onboard M recorder and offloaded to tape using a Codex Lab system.
Digilab was also involved in training the crew on safe ways of dealing with and communicating the data. “We didn’t have a single problem for the whole job,” says Tellet. “It was very basic and it worked. First ACs and second ACs, we’re all making the changeover from film to Codex, and we’re treating it more and more like film. It’s becoming more and more second nature and natural to us.”
According to Eggleton, one of the system’s strengths is its adaptability – it can be tailored to the needs of any production, regardless of budget. “It’s reliable, and easy enough to configure using the various recipes,” he says. “It’s something that camera crew can do themselves. There isn’t a need for elaborate monitoring or applying many different LUTs on-set. You don’t need additional technicians, and you can use that budget instead to shoot ARRIRAW. For Redemption, that was a beneficial trade-off.”
Eggleton says that the 12-bit logarithmic uncompressed ARRIRAW file format is important to Menges in the DI suite. “You’re capturing everything that the sensor sees, so if you need to push or pull the exposure, you’ve got the maximum information you can get from the ALEXA camera,” he says. “In post, the more data you have, the better. For Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Chris did tests, and he saw the difference. It gives him more flexibility to manipulate the image in post. He’s very much an ARRIRAW believer. For a project that’s largely set at night, where there’s a good chance you’ll need to pull detail and add some shadows, it’s a wise thing to do.”
The transition to digital has been marked by a confusing thicket of file formats and technical specs, with a newly designed workflow seemingly required each time out of the gate. But according to Eggleton, Codex is helping to clarify matters. “There is no industry standard, but if you were looking to find one, it’s pretty much what Codex has done,” he says. “There’s a table of contents on every tape that describes which shots, for example, with editorial takes and time code maps to the files. So, even if someone’s never had a tape before, if they’ve got a savvy IT department, it’s not a huge leap to understand how it’s laid out. It’s well designed and it does what it needs to do. We do large shows up to the scale of World War Z, as well as smaller shows. Redemption is a probably a mid-sized show. But they all benefit.”
Looking back, Menges says he was very pleased with the decision to work with Codex, Digilab, ALEXA and ARRIRAW on Redemption. “We didn’t have any technical hang-ups,” he says. “Even in very low light levels, we managed to record everything. Our rushes were beautiful. In the DI, we were able to help certain areas where we were short of light. It absolutely worked brilliantly."
Redemption was released in theaters on June 28, 2013. Variety’s senior film critic Peter Debruge called it “a film that wraps itself in the chilly black shadows of the big city, evocatively captured by DP Chris Menges,” adding that “overall high production values” were “boosted by Menges’ visual instincts.”
Digilab smooths the way on Broken City
Ben Seresin ASC BSC took a film noir approach to his latest project, Broken City.
The film’s imagery frames Russell Crowe as a duplicitous big-city mayor, and Mark Wahlberg as an ex-cop seeking revenge. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the woman caught in the middle. The director was Allen Hughes of the Hughes Brothers, in his first solo feature film effort.
Seresin’s testing led him to ARRI ALEXA Studio cameras, spherical Panavision Primo and Angenieux Optimo lenses, with Codex M Recorders. The final aspect ratio was a widescreen 2.35:1. “The idea was to do a film noir with a more available-light sort of feel,” says Seresin (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Unstoppable). “That may seem counterintuitive, but we thought it was a good opportunity to combine genres and perhaps discover something new. I was keen to explore the digital format, especially since we were able to shoot ARRIRAW on a more production-friendly budget. Codex was great, and Digilab helped put an affordable post process together. We had a very limited below-the-line figure to work with, and the system worked fantastically well.”
Seresin’s goal is to create the look in camera and refine it in dailies, getting within ten percent of the final image during the shoot, if possible. “We did a very basic timing to the images before they went out,” he says. “I find that the less fiddling around there is afterwards, the less possibility there is for bad decisions made by the wrong people. The whole system was great – I could sit in there and time the images as we went, very quickly, and know that they were very close to how they would be in the final grade. We had a fantastic Dolby monitor, which was just incredible. It was a really great piece of hardware, and it helped us feel very comfortable about where the dailies were. On location, we had a lab set up nearby and it worked very smoothly. I was really pleased.”
Digilab’s Patrick Ready says that the Broken City assignment entailed adapting to a tight, nimble camera department working on small, practical locations in Louisiana and New York. “The idea of setting up very large on-set rigs or large support mechanisms just wasn’t practical,” Ready says. “Digilab supported the camera department by providing them with calibrated monitors hooked up directly to the ALEXA cameras. Knowing that those monitors matched what we were looking at in the production office was crucial. This was tested and verified, so that Ben did not have any surprises. We served as an immediate QC, reporting back any anomalies as quickly as possible and anticipating their needs for the next day.”
Digilab supplied the Codex M Recorders and the Codex data packs, made perfect duplicate archives of the footage to LTO and to the SAN system on set, performed QC, synced sound and delivered dailies. The data packs were then deleted, checked and returned to the set for more recording.
“You have to know that you’ve absolutely got it,” says Ready. “We find it’s very helpful to put the camera department at ease, with the certainty that the recording is going well and providing feedback.”
Regarding the scale of the job, Ready adds, “We’re very conscious of working in the parameters that we’re given. We can handle difficult and complex scenarios, but we are also able to simplify, if that is what is required. The Broken City shoot was a good example. We do our best work when we are connected very closely with the camera department, a trusted confidante with a clear understanding of what they need. On Broken City, the shoot went very, very well as a result.
“The bottom line is that no matter the size or complexity of a project, we can manage those critical assets, that data, in a much more safe, dependable, and cost-effective way,” says Ready. “The workflow chaos out there can be daunting. Industry standards and practices are evolving from week to week. But there’s a much more efficient process. It’s scalable to the needs of each production. We feel that’s it’s our job as caretakers of that digital image to be able to offer those options, and to keep up with the latest iterations, from testing through conforming and digital negative. That simplifies the process and allows the filmmakers to concentrate on the artistic aspects of cinematography.”
Broken City was released theatrically on January 18, 2013.