Let’s Get Real
New high-resolution capture systems highlight Local 600 panel at Cine Gear 2012. By Pauline Rogers. Photos by Bonnie Osborne.
Foot traffic on Paramount’s New York Street was light the Saturday morning of Cine Gear 2012. Perhaps because attendees had all clustered into The Sherry Lansing Building for this year’s ICG Panel: How Hyper-Reality is Transforming the Art and Craft of Digital Filmmaking.
Hosted by Local 600 President Steven Poster ASC, the densely informative discussion included cinematographers Michael Goi, ASC (The New Normal, American Horror Story) and Michael Barrett (Ted, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang), as well as Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato (Hugo, Shutter Island) and Director Po Chan (The Ticket). While many opinions were expressed, all panelists ultimately agreed there are substantial questions about how new cinematic experiences (like 4K capture) will impact filmmaking – and the world’s best film/TV crews are racing to keep up with the creative curve inspired by such new technologies.
Poster’s opening remarks highlighted two significant developments in digital filmmaking. “One occurred so quietly, it is hardly talked about – how the majority of cameras are dragging along fewer vestigial relics from the old days when digital meant video,” he explained. “The second – hyper-reality or hyper-cinema – is so new we haven’t fully realized its potential. Not only have we left the world of video to be simply another choice of output performance, but we are entering a realm of high resolution, high sensitivity, high color depth sensors and data handling systems that enable high frame rate work.”
In other words – the industry has entered uncharted waters. And those venturing into new mediums may (or may not) be laying the foundation for future users.
Rob Legato is a prime example. When ARRI asked him to create a short film to evaluate 48 fps (frames-per-second) capture, Legato used a PACE rig with one 24-fps camera and a second at 48-fps. He shot and cut two different versions of the same images, then viewed them on a high dynamic range Dolby monitor. “Artistically, I preferred the 24-frame version, because it felt more like a movie,” Legato told the panel. “My generation was brought up with video at 60-frames, so 48-frames is basically like PAL video.
“Photographing it wasn’t an imposition for me,” he continued. “It was more on the D.I.T. and the camera assistants. But there was a huge difference for post because there is four times the amount of footage, and no proven pipeline to finish. For me, it’s not an all or nothing approach. You can shoot in 48 if it fits the project, say in sporting events, then switch to 24 for drama.”
For Michael Barrett, who used Sony’s new F65 high-resolution sensor (which has a potential capability of 8K capture) on No Good Deed, it was also an interesting experiment. He rated the camera at 800 most of the time. On many occasions he would utilize existing night exterior sources by rating the camera at 1200 and opening the electronic shutter to 230, 270 or 320. He also took advantage of the 1.4 Leica lenses. Barrett said everything about the camera surpassed his expectations.
“Its sensitivity to low light, color reproduction and sharpness changed the day’s work,” he told the Cine Gear audience. “We did certain scenes where there wasn’t enough light to see an actor’s face and my light meter couldn’t find a single foot candle, yet the monitor revealed a healthy exposure. We would still shape the light but it became more of a subtractive process.
“Empirically, the new technology is making us faster.” Barrett added. “With minimal lighting and crew, we averaged 10 hour days. I would notice a stray piece of light glancing off a cheek, look at the monitor and realize it was enough to tell the story. Perhaps this has led me to become more reliant on the D.I.T. But I find that I light more instinctively, less mathematically and am satisfied much sooner as everything comes together. Seeing is believing I suppose.”
Poster asked short film director Po Chan to explain what using Canon’s new 4K DSLR (EOS-1D C) did for her on The Ticket. “The camera was so small,” she exclaimed, “I was able to go into very tight spaces. For example, we had an entire scene with two characters talking in the bucket of a Ferris wheel. The dock below had weight limits, so we couldn’t bring in a 50-foot Technocrane. But, with a small footprint DSLR, we could get myself, an operator, focus puller, etc. in the bucket and capture the scene effortlessly.”
Michael Goi explained that there were a number of reasons he used the F65 on the pilot of The New Normal, which was Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy’s first production in the digital world. One being that the first to use such a camera on a television production was attractive to Murphy, who always likes to stay ahead of the curve. The other was purely aesthetic.
“The F65 gave us a great amount of color and depth [which fit the look of the story] even though we weren’t working in the raw format because television post production can’t deal with the enormous file sizes we typically use on features,” Goi explained. “With this camera’s resolution and color depth I knew I could push it to the edge of acceptability and still get a great image.” The former ASC President also said “the pilot that got approved by the network and studios hasn’t even been color timed and probably won’t be.” This is attributable both to the F65’s color and contrast, and to Goi’s desire that production employ a traditional workflow, which included a dailies timer as opposed to the on-set “lab-in-a-box” approach.
Goi then added, “that there is no one thing that solves all your problems. All of the tools these days are valid as long as you recognize the ramifications of each one in terms of workflow, archiving and other issues.”
Po Chan said new formats, like Canon’s 4K DSLR, allow her to write for the cameras. “I can define a story to showcase different details,” she explained. “I liken it to painting – every color is there and you have to make matches and how you are going to do your strokes.”
While praising new capture formats, Legato also urged caution. “New technology usually takes the art form back a couple of steps when it’s first introduced,” he said. “Digital projection didn’t compare to film projection, but the benefits outweighed those considerations. The same thing may be happening with alternative frame rate. It’s going to take an artistic step backwards the way sound did, and the audience will tell you whether they like it or not.”
In terms of Legato’s specialty, VFX, he said, “these new formats won’t change that area a lot. It’s more of an artistic choice. Certainly, having details in areas where you want to print up but you couldn’t before is a plus. With the high dynamic range you have the color and so little grain there isn’t the junk that you have in film. It’s easier but the end result is the same.”
And, Legato counseled, panels like the one sponsored by Local 600 were “essential” to openly discuss the pros and cons of any “creative endeavor without trying to sell one over the other. The more it is talked about,” he said, “the more the film community begins to understand the rules have been permanently broken in a good way.”
“There are many sides to the race for more pixels, both good and bad,” Goi summed up about the information dispensed at the Cine Gear panel “Ultimately, I think what we tried to convey is that the artistry of the individual determines the best canvas for telling their particular story.”
Walking through the balloon arches into Cine Gear’s main exhibit area at Paramount Studios brought the panelists’ words to vivid life. Cine Gear is an active trade show, with equipment crawling, gliding and flying everywhere. Bot&Dolly set the tone with miniature robots inviting attendees to check out IRIS, a motion control tool that moves the world instead of the actor. A few steps away was a demo for the sleek, maneuverable camera stabilization, Steadiseg, a hard-mounted articulating arm that handles heavier camera packages.
Further down the New York Street I nearly bumped into an operator showing off Tyler’s MiniGyro™, a camera stabilization system that goes from one shooting platform (helicopter) to another, such as a car, motorcycle, with no setup or installation. And, speaking of helicopters – you had to watch your head and feet as Radflight’s RED Baron (designed for the RED EPIC®), whirled above, and glided through the crowd.
While Cinegear exhibits are often a follow up to what’s been shown at NAB, like Rotolight™’s ANOVA and Matthews MUT System, there were a few other cool tools that our scouts found interesting. Lighttools outside Ed Barger’s booth caught one person’s interest and so did Dracast’s new LED Studio, A new company called DMLite was offering up a new true color match LED. Inside one of the two stages, we found another new light, the Reel Lite™ from Olesen|SSL, touted as a perfect replacement for a 6K space light. Also inside MACTEC LEDs were showing off an LED Sled.
There were a few other discoveries. IO Industries had this little (and I mean little), Flare camera that does everything from motion capture to broadcast. Another new company on the radar, Freefly Cinema, was showing off low-altitude remote helicopter shooting. In the accessory arena, ThinkTank Bags has crossed over from traditional backpacks to gear for every kind of shooter. And no one could walk past Bright Tangerine’s booth, which featured a highly adjustable, lightweight, Mattebox designed by Andy Subratie, former manager of camera rental at ARRI Media.