“How do you shoot your movies using all the different cameras that you do with their varying characteristics?”
It’s a question that I get all the time, and the answer isn’t as simple as you might think.
I’ve always shot with a lot of cameras.
Try to view this picture without hearing the song “Macho Man” by the Village People
Even when I was doing Crazy/Beautiful and Drumline, I had five or six cameras back when everyone shot with one or two cameras. I always had an arsenal of cameras, and that’s how I created my speed. What I find is when you are configuring a camera, it’s time wasted. I’m very fast at lighting, and a lot of times, we want to go from handheld to steadicam to movi to dolly to up on a crane; if you have to take that one or two cameras, and you have to reconfigure them to each one of those scenarios, it takes 20 to 30 minutes…
With the cameras now we have all the little cables, all the accessories, the Teradeks, the onboard monitors and the “this” and the “that” – it’s like a never ending list of things – cameras now have more accessories than make-up shops! It takes times to put all those pieces and parts together, time to sync the Teradek and time to do all these different things.
Looks like he just finished rigging another camera
If you can have a complete system ready and built for you to jump onto at any moment, then that’s what it’s all about. On Act of Valor, I mixed four different camera systems. I basically mixed film, 35 millimeter Kodak film, I mixed Sony F950 for all the helicopter work, I mixed Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D. Take a look at the 30 second commercials that I shot for Navy diver and Navy swimmer – all of which we shot on a mixture of cameras similarly to Act of Valor.
Mixing different cameras on Act of Valor
Those were the four camera systems that I mixed on Act of Valor. I had never mixed formats like that before, other than shooting Super 8, Super 16, and 35 then mixing them all together. I had done that on so many music videos, but in the music videos, it was meant to look different, with what I’m doing now, it’s meant to look like it’s the same emulsion.
I really started to find my stride on Act of Valor when I was able to kind of even the playing field, using a post-process called Cinnafilm. We used this plug-in basically to go in and eliminate all of the noise and the pixels and all the imperfections of the Canon 5D, the 7D, and the F950. Then once we eliminated that, we then layered grain on top of that that matched the grain on our day exterior, day interiors, night exterior, night interior that we shot on film. We would match the grain structure to these digital formats. We used to do this using multiple platforms like Adobe Premiere Pro then After Effects and plugins, but now we do all of it in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve either with what they’ve built in or with the help of film convert that has potentially the best grain emulation out there.
DaVinci Resolve adding grain
That’s how I found to be able to seamlessly create this by evening the playing field, where you’re doing the same process with the film. You’re stripping all of that grain off of the film as well as all the digital noise and all the bad kind of quirky qualities of the Canon 5D and 7D.
Basically what we’re doing is running noise reduction on the film and video footage which reduces the film grain but on compressed video footage, it does more than just remove digital grain / noise.
Temporal Noise tab in the bottom left of the screen is where the magic happens!
Because we are processing it at a much deeper bit depth, the program interpolates and rebuilds some of the missing information, smoothing out the footage by removing compression artifacts and lessening any banding you might get from the 8 bit color space. Then we’re layering grain back on top of the footage which has this incredible magical effect of smoothing out harsh details and yet creating the illusion of more finer details. This brings all of the footage much closer together, and gives us that cinematic look we all strive for.
On Need for Speed, we did the same exact thing. We shot ARRI Alexa, we shot C500, we shot Canon 1D C, and we shot GoPro Hero 3.
We did the same exact thing with that. We took all their compression and all the stuff that happened with all those varying sources, and we eliminated it through this Cinnafilm process and then we went back and layered style and a texture of grain over all of it to match seamlessly. Having the ability to mix these cameras was so important for the story and for the approach that the director wanted.
Different cameras in use on Need For Speed
He wanted this to feel real. He didn’t want it to be CGI. He wanted cameras mounted on cars and places that you had never seen a camera mounted before. That’s going to require different cameras that are not an ARRI Alexa that’s 24 pounds and 28 inches long and nine inches wide and that’s just not going to happen. By taking these smaller cameras, especially the GoPro, where we could just mount 10 or 12 on a car, light the thing on fire, put it into a ratchet, spin it over a bridge and land on nine other cameras that were down on the rocks below it, this is stuff that makes me excited. This is what I love about creating movies and the art form of cinematography. This approach is, I think, a very unique one, and one that I’ve kind of mastered over the years to be able to blend this style of all different emulsions and all different qualities to look like one.
Most recently, I have done this on my latest film with McG for Netflix titled “Rim of the world”. On this movie, we used RED Gemini’s, RED Dragons, Ursa Mini Pros, and Black magic micro cameras all to get the different styles and angles that we needed. Using this same process of degraining, applying a look and regraining to match everything in DaVinci Resolve has worked wonders and I look forward to how the film will turn out.