Mixing Formats: Arri Alexa, Canon 5D and C300
I love shooting commercials that make a difference and give back to local communities. Hurlbut Visuals recently collaborated with Vaughn Wedeen Kuhn to lens the next set of Department of Transportation spots for New Mexico. The agency’s storyboards were visually unique and compelling, and we could not wait to bring them to life. They were captured by mixing formats. We combined elements of the Arri Alexa, Canon 5D, AND the C300.
The first, Aftermath, was a DWI spot that showcased the random tragedy caused by a drunk driver. What began as a wonderful graduation celebration for a budding surgeon instantly became a nightmare. Our concept wanted the look and feel to take place at dusk, right after the disaster. We had one day to shoot this commercial that had to take place in a 30-minute period of dusk. To control the daylight, we used negative fill and large solids. This allowed us to block the sun and create a mood that felt like dusk.
I had an Arri Alexa with Leica glass. So, I pushed the underexposed envelope to create that wonderful fragility of light experienced at dusk and or dawn. Then, I cranked the camera to around 4200 K so that the daylight had a coolish tone and used several stops of Tiffen Water White Neutral Density filters to get us around a 2.0. I have found that the Arri Alexa has about a 1.2 worth of IR filtration on its sensor. For anything above 1.2, I use an additional IR filter.
An example would be if I wanted 7 stops worth of ND, I would use a 1.2 straight ND and then a .9 IRND to add up to the 7 stops. The look and feel of the spot was inspired by the photographer Todd Hido. I love his still work of dawn and dusk. His earth tones mixed with muted cyans rocks.
Mixed Format Approach
The tone of this spot was about silence, that dead calm that slowly puts you on edge. These intimate lock-off frames show you an intimacy, an uncomfortable, personal moment in time. We chose to shoot with a mixed format approach with the Arri Alexa, Canon 5D and the C300.
I used each format to its advantage. The 5D was used for its shallow depth of field on Macro CU photography. We chose the Leica 60 and 100 macro lenses.
The Alexa was our A camera, shooting all of the graphic wides as well as the medium shots of destruction.
Our third camera would be the C300, which was used for the final twilight shot of the drunk driver being loaded into the car and the empty liquor bottle in the foreground. We capitalized on the high sensitivity of the Canon sensor to extend our dusk light.
“Jekyll and Hyde”: 30
The boards for this spot were in the development stage when we got the job. As co-directors, we loved the idea of the concept, which was Jekyll is a nice guy who develops a Mr. Hyde temperament when he gets behind the wheel. Our vision was a single lock-off shot positioned on the hood of the car. This lock-off would showcase Jekyll’s crazy driving habits in a comedy of jump cuts.
I chose the Arri Alexa as the A camera for this lock-off because of its dynamic range ability. I knew we did not have the time to light the car’s interior, so I would have to go with the available light. This would be problematic with other cameras because of the necessary 14.5 stops of latitude, which is what you need when you have the burning light of a New Mexico day and the dim interior of a Honda Civic. The final footage had a unique Hipstamatic look and feel. Mounted on a hood mount and using a 19mm Leica lens to add to the interior comedy, we embarked on a mission to shoot at all times of the day and night that showcased Jekyll as a crazy man behind the wheel.
Many thanks to Morgan Estill for shooting all the great BTS stills and video.
Schedule 1-on-1 Video Call with Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with Shane Hurlbut, ASC today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
Lovely work, I’m a huge fan of Todd Hido
Mattyme, thanks so much, me too.
I’m a little fuzzy on your explanation about using ND filters and stacking them I guess due to my lack of experience in this area. but I love the BTS pics & videos, very informative as usual. Thanks Shane!
Baron, I guess it is a little difficult to explain. The Arri Alexa has about an Infra Red filter of about 4 stops, some 6 stops, Arri will not verify. So to be safe I IR filter above 4 stops. Hope that clears it up. If not so sorry. Thanks for the kind words and your support
Re IR filtration. So what I gather is that the Arri has a base IR block of 4 stops sans any ND on lens. Add ND past that point, then the visible gets blocked at say 7 stops, but IR at only 4 stops, thus a net +3 stops of IR illumination…
So to knock that down, you need to have two or more filters with IR block along with ND coating to make sure IR and Visible are blocked at the same level?
Do all the ND filters have IR blocking? Or do we need to choose specific ones?
What about the Vari ND’s? I see that Tiffen makes ND with IR, does one do the job if you stack 2-3 NDs, or must you have all with IR to stop the inequality?
I love your BTS videos, keep ’em coming :)
Guilherme Rambo. Thanks for the kind words and support.
Shane, Beautiful spots. the explanations and BTS are always fantastic learning material. Was the whole set “dressed” before you figured out your shots or did you have storyboards as reference for creating the scene, or C) all the above?
Also, I think I recall you mentioning the C300 being too “video”ish. Would you use the C300 for anything other than low lighting scenarios?
mel haynes,thank you so much for your kind words. Yes we dressed it all and then went in there for the shots. They were already storyboarded so we had the vision. Right now I love it in low light. Using it next week on Boeing in all different applications. Give you some feedback
That was great – especially that final shot. And thanks for the BTS video. It’s always so fascinating to see how much goes into it. We can really feel your passion.
But the opening aerial shot seemed to have lots of rolling shutter, at least I assume that’s what it was. Is it too severe to fix, or is there a reason it was left in?
Ben, thank you so much for your kind words, that aerial shot was a grab shot out of a very ruff ride in a Cessna which beat the crap out of me. These were then stabilized in post. That is what you are seeing. But for me it sets the tone so I am not interested in the rolling shutter, but the image, the mood and the tone. Story first.
Was the Leica 19mm you used on the Alexa a leica R, or the leica summilux-c pl primes? If it were a leica r i presume the 60mm and 100 was also?
Kim, the 19mm was a cinema glass Leica and the 60-100mm were R Glass.
Thanks Shane, that was a really insightful BTS! Learnt quite a bit from the setup. Have a question about shooting through a car windscreen during daylight. Was it primiarly the Arri’s dynamic range that helped cut through the glare? I suppose there was a polarizer than helped too?
Sam, you are very welcome. Yes we used a Tiffen WW pola filter in front of the lens along with Tiffen WWND. I rotated the pola just enough to take some of the reflection out, but not all of it.
I love the video, it shows so much on the effects of what your trying to portray to your audience. I want to so a piece like this for a class. Also, how would I be able to shadow you sometime on a shoot?
Jack Borcherding, thank you so much for those kind words. Do you live in LA?
I am not in LA, I wish I was. I am currently in the Midwest. Do you ever do any projects in the Midwest? Is there anyway we could connect to stay in touch and maybe I could work on set with you in the future? Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m always learning a lot here…Thanks to Shane and your incredible team.
Matheus, you are so welcome. Thank you for those kind words
You mention shooting the car ‘hood mount’ scene on a 19mm Leica. Since there isn’t a Leica cinema series 19mm, are you using the R lens? If so, how are you getting the Leica 19mm R onto an Alexa?
k wasley, yes there is.
Your videos are so fun to watch and educational. Enjoy all your work. Awesome.
By the way, Magic Lantern is releasing version 2.3 today with a donation and free on Aug. 13. Supposedly quite stable. Image adjustment for camera LCD monitor (although doesn’t affect video) can be done. Also, ISO adjustments…perhaps better DR? And so on.
Ron, sweet, I will try these out. Thanks
shane, thanks for the shout out. I can’t wait to show your blog and the BTS stuff to my son in the morning.
he’s gonna love it all.
Todd Hido, You are so welcome. Thank you so much for the inspiration my friend. I am HUGE fan of your photography. Mark shared your music vid with me, nice work as well. I hope your son enjoys it.
Bill Hamell, thank you so much for your kind words
Shane, thanks as always for your generosity.
Impressive to see how the multiple formats cut together seamlessly.
Inspring to see the vision behind the technology.
Mark Rutherford, great to hear from you. I checked out your work with Todd, nice stuff. Thank you for all of your support and give my best to Todd, a HUGE FAN.
Interesting to hear where you think the Alexa’s IR protection limit sits. It does seem to arrive with very heavy ND-ing. Something we’ll have to be aware of with each new camera that comes out. Thankfully with digital cameras it’s spottable on the monitor. Great spot and you nailed the dusk all day look. I presumed you kept your lenses at T/2 because that’s what they would have been at that time of day, so the depth of field felt right? (In addition to simply knocking the daylight levels down).
Oli Kember, yes it is and Arri won’t tell which camera has the IR filtration and how much for that matter. Once again to eye. Thank you so much for your kind words and support as always Oli. Yes kept it to a t2 or sometimes a t 1.3.
Hi Shane, first I just want to thank you for all that you share with us, it’s really an amazing help. Anyways, regarding the first scene/ariel scene, was that real footage or just a picture? If it was a picture how did you go about making it? Thank you!
Ben Hess thank you for your kind words and support. That was an aerial shot which was done with a C300 at 1000′ feet. The plane was shaky, and I was shooting out of the side window, we had to stabilize it in post.
Those are the worst. Had to try and hold a shot from a Robinson R44 for 8kms (about 5 miles I guess) hanging out the door on a gusty day last month – C300. No love from any of the elements.
Love these spots Shane. Gorgeous visuals. Thanks esp. for your BTS thoughts and descriptions. Love seeing those. Would love if you were in Australia one day – would be front row at your masterclass. All the best.
Enjoyed the video thoroughly. For someone like us that kind of production gadgets is WOW. Was there a continuity error in the night shot when the cop sits in the front seat while in the other day light (6500K) shot he walks to his own car. Please disregard if it is purposeful per the screenplay. Cheers.
4CornersPictures – Youtube Channel
4CornersPicture – Twitter
Arun Meegada, thank you so much for your comment, kind words and support
Stellar work as usual and thanks for posting this!
Could you please go through the camera settings? meaning did you dial the K the same of each camera? I assume the C300 was on log and the 5D on neutral right? If not what did you do to make sure post was not going to be more of a challenge in terms of CC.
Paolo Mugnaini, Thank you so much for the kind words. Yes 5D on Neutral, -1 sat, -3 contrast. C300 in log and Alexa in Log C. All color temps dialed into the same settings over all cameras.