Hooked on a Feeling. By Pauline Rogers.
Mother Nature smiled on the film industry this year. Instead of the heat beating mercilessly off the black tar on Paramount’s New York Street (per usual), a pleasant fog and balmy temperatures greeted a record crowd at Cine Gear 2011. The seminars and panels were well attended, indicating an economy on the mend and — fingers crossed — a new production boon on the West Coast. Industry mavens like John Bailey, ASC, Dion Beebe, ASC, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, and Robert Primes, ASC, talked to capacity crowds about everything from historic movies to the future of DSLR and 3D.
One of the most substantive panels was Local 600’s Cinematography, Innovation and Unions: Working in the Digital Age and in the Third Dimension. It was moderated by Guild President Steven Poster, ASC, and featured Mark H. Weingartner (chairman of Local 600’s Training Committee), D.I.T.s Bob Kertesz and Cliff Hsui, and cinematographers Dave Perkal and Mark Doering-Powell. Poster used insights from his career to provide a springboard to thought-provoking discussions about the state of the industry and the impact of digital on the creative community.
“Steven Poster focused in on how this digital revolution has been with us for a decade, now. Starting with the F900, then moving to Viper and DALSA, which is a part of [technological] history,” Weingartner recalls. “The consensus, as Poster stated, is the digital world is a fact of life and Local 600 [along with other IATSE crafts] is making a concerted effort to help members stay in control of the image and ahead of the game.”
“I think the biggest question we tackled was: ‘what do you love and what do you hate about shooting in HD?’” Perkal says. “My answer was that I love the immediate gratification and the fact that I don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to check dailies with a colorist, before they are distributed to producers and execs. What I hate about it is that everyone has become a critic and an armchair cinematographer. Above all, it is a tool and the key is deciding which tool is appropriate for the story.”
Inevitably, the discussion headed toward the capture side of the digital revolution.
“I think the overall feeling was that digital capture and on-set data workflow can be beneficial to the camera department in that, if it is properly crewed by trained Local 600 crew, there will be more control over the image available to the DP, faster turn-around for the DP to know if the images work or don’t work, and easier communication between DP and colorist. And easier notification if there is a problem,” Hsui says.
“With regard to handling camera data, we have put together a training program that we have put on in all regions,” Weingartner adds. “We are not SMPTE, so it is not our place to create standards. But we did create a committee of experienced D.I.T.s, all working in file-based workflows, who worked out different procedures for different types of jobs.”
Powell’s feels that the steps implemented by Poster – “to be positive about digital tools, to keep training our ICG members to be the best — have truly impacted how members are embracing this digital revolution.” To that end, the panel covered the challenges of working from inside the digital tent, i.e., Kertesz broke down the use of Look Up Tables [LUTs] in simple, understandable terms, and the different kinds of workflow jobs from live 3D to shooting in stereo for a feature. He emphasized how important a fail-safe role the D.I.T. remains on the set.
Guild members like camera operator Harry Box say the seminar was “extremely important” because the panelists spoke to the practicalities of dealing with the digital imaging formats on set. “The sharing of personal experiences and cautions in handling the images in a digital medium were important to us,” he insisted.
And Box, like others, says crewmembers need to hear about (and sign up for) training programs designed by the Guild to address digital workflow issues.
“We also needed to heed President Poster’s point of emphasizing the role Local 600 plays in the digital evolution, and the training and staffing repercussions that comes with technological change,” he says. “Between the comments the DPs presented and the D.I.T.s and other panelists, I left the seminar feeling that while much still remains to be ironed out and streamlined on set and in post production practices, the images achievable with today’s cameras have finally reached the point where they can exceed the DPs expectation. We are now able to ride a horse that can really deliver.”
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Speaking of being able to deliver, there was plenty of new capture gear to see at Cine Gear 2011, with 3D remaining the hottest ticket. Local 600 members Ron Condon and Mike Prickett showed footage from their new IC3D FILMS camera system that utilizes dual high-speed 35mm film cameras. The system was designed to film beyond 4K quality 3D images in extreme environments – like big surf [see ICG Magazine May 2011 – Tunnel Vision]. Condon says that, “using Kodak 5201 film allows us to produce ‘organic’ life with pristine resolution for IMAX screens or consumer televisions.”
In the Pictorvision booth, attendees got a first look at the first successful marriage of 3D and aerial. Pictorvision’s Tom Hallman and Cameron-Pace’s John Brooks demonstrated how the Pace FUSION 3D technology and Pictorvision’s Eclipse captures (non-IMAX) 3D footage for everything from high-energy aerial chases to live sports.
“We were excited to show industry professionals a face-to-face access to this new piece of equipment that’s already proven itself shooting the Master’s Golf Tournament,” Brooks states.
Guild shooter Oliver Stapelton, ASC, found his first-ever gear show, “totally overwhelming. The sheer number of 3D rigs was extraordinary, from vast to hand held,” Stapelton shared. “Hardly a film camera in sight! Looks like the movies of the future will be shot with 5Ds on crash hats and on the end of long poles!”
Assistant cameraman E. Gunnar Mortensen called the vbag (www.vbag.com) a great invention on the low-tech side. “I can see how practical it could be on set,” he says. “A little more advanced was the new follow focus from OConnor and their new camera accessories (www.OCon.com). And even more high-tech was the new cmotion 8 motor system that recorded metadata (www.cmotion.com),” Mortensen continues. “The simple fact that it can record and send all this data to post with timecode will help out VFX/post tremendously.”
Steadicam/camera operator Alec Jarnagin came all the way from New York, and he wasn’t disappointed. “A large part of why I came this year was to see the Cinetronic monitor for Steadicam (www.cinetronic.com),” Jarnagin recounts. “I’ve been a green screen junkie my entire career and I have yet to see an LCD monitor that offers daylight view-ability that is acceptable until now.” Jarnagin didn’t just linger at Cinetronics. “Angenieux’s (www.angenieux.com) new lightweight 45-120mm zoom really impressed me,” he adds. “And the new Preston (www.prestoncinema.com) motor driver for 3D will certainly simplify motor control on 3D jobs.”
Other talked-about tools from the equipment bazaar (to be covered in upcoming ICG magazine issues) include the Genus Hurricane 3D (www.hurricane-3D.com) [July ICG] and Medusa (www.medusa.com) [August ICG] and P+S Technik’s debut of their X35 camcorder (www.pstechnik.de) [July ICG].
We also heard great things about a new light from LRX (www.lrx-lights.com), and a cool new LED-based OHM™ Digital Spacelight from PRG (www.prg.com) that was developed in conjunction with Gekko Technology. The fixture can operate on 110-240 VAC, using only 500 watts of power. It offers a similar lumen output to a tungsten spacelight, but with an over 80-percent reduction in power and HVAC requirements. Yet another old friend, Glue Tools (www.gluetools.com), had software designed for ARRI’s hugely popular ALEXA. There was also a promising new remote focus from View Factor Studios (www.viewfactor.net), a time filter program from Tessive (www.tessive.com), a new lighting filter from Cotech (www.cotechusa.com), and some intriguing blue screen/green screen and other fabrics from The Rag Place (www.theragplace.com).
“Being [on Paramount’s New York Street] Cine Gear always has the class and the romantic sense of motion picture history,” Mahlmann concludes. “The show attracts people from all over the world and lets us see manufacturer’s products up close, as well as peak behind the curtain at new prototypes. As a camera operator I took into account recent trends, like smaller recording devices and pure capture units with no recorders. I also find myself wanting to invest in more items that have a longer shelf life, from handheld rigs, lenses, and more. I found products that I hope will still work with new camera systems in the next three to four years.”