Tag Archives: Alexa

DP John Seale on capturing ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

This film vet goes digital for the first time with Alexa cameras and Codex recorders

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth movie in writer/director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action franchise and a prequel to the first three. It is also the first digital film for Australian cinematographer John Seale ASC, ACS, whose career spans more than 30 years and includes such titles as The English Patient (for which he won an Oscar), The Mosquito Coast, Witness, Dead Poets Society and Rain Man.

Facing difficult conditions, intense action scenes and the need to accommodate a massive number of visual effects, Seale and his crew chose to shoot principal photography with Arri Alexa cameras and capture ArriRaw on Codex onboard recorders, a workflow that has become standard among filmmakers due to its ruggedness and easy integration with post.

Warner Bros.’ Fury Road, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, was shot in Namibia. The coastal deserts of that African country are home to sand dunes measuring 1,000 feet high and 20 miles long. Frequent sandstorms and intense heat required special precautions by the camera crew.

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“I’d shot plenty of film-negative films in deserts and jungles under severe conditions, but never digital,” notes Seale. “So I was a bit worried, but I had a fantastic crew of people who had done that… had worked with digital cameras in jungles, deserts, dry, heat, wet, moist, whatever. They were ready and put together full precaution kits of rain covers, dust covers and even heat covers to take the heat off the cameras in the middle of the day.

“We were using a lot of new gear.” Seale adds. “Everything that our crew did in pre-production in Sydney and took to Namibia worked very, very well for the entire time. Our time loss through equipment was minimal.”

Seale’s crew was outfitted with six Arri Alexas and a number of Canon 5Ds, with the latter used in part as crash-cams in action sequences. The Alexas were supported by 11 Codex on-board recorders. The relatively large number of cameras and recorders helped the camera crew to remain nimble. While one scene was being shot, the next was being prepped.

“We kept two kick cameras built the whole time and two ultra-high vehicles rigged the whole time,” explains camera coordinator Michelle Pizanis. “When we when drove up (to a location) we could start shooting, rather than break down the camera at one site and rebuild it at the next.”

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John Seale on location shooting Mad Max: Fury Road.

The original Mad Max is remembered for its gritty look. Fury Road took a different route due to the film’s heavy use of visual effects. “The DI and the post work is so explicit; almost every shot is going to be manipulated in some way,” Seale explains. “Our edict was ‘just shoot it.’ Continuity of light wasn’t really a question. We knew that the film would be cut very quickly, so there wouldn’t be time to analyze every shot. Intercutting between overcast and full sun wasn’t going to be a problem. On this film, the end result controlled the execution.”

In order to provide maximum image quality and flexibility for the post team, Seale and his crew chose to record ArriRaw with the Alexa cameras. That, the cinematographer notes, made Codex an obvious choice as only Codex recorders were capable of reliably capturing ArriRaw.

“The choice to go with Codex was definitely for the quality of the recording and post-production considerations,” says Seale. “Once again, we were a little worried about desert heat and desert cold. It changes so much from night to day. And during the day, we had dust storms, dust flying everywhere. We sometimes had moisture in the air. But the Codex systems didn’t fail us.”

Shooting digitally with Codex offered an advantage over shooting on film as it avoided the need to reload cameras with film negative in the blowing winds of the desert. “There is a certain amount of paraphernalia needed to shoot digitally,” Seale says. “But our crew was used to that. They built special boxes to put everything in. They had little fans. They had inlet and outlet areas to keep air circulation going. Those boxes were complete. Cables came out and went to the camera. If we were on the move, the boxes were bolted down so that they were out of the way and didn’t fall off. Sometimes we sat on them to get our shot.”

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RF interfaces were used with the Alexa cameras to transmit images to a command vehicle for monitoring by director George Miller, who was not only able to review shots, he could edit material to determine what further coverage was needed. “For George, it was a godsend,” says Seale. “That refined the film shooting and made it a lot quicker than the normal procedures.”

It was that sort of flexibility that made shooting with Alexa and Codex so appealing, adds Seale. “I was a great advocate of digital 10 or 15 ago when it started to come in. Film negative is a beautiful image recording process, but it’s 120 years old and you get scratches and dead flies caught in the reels. It’s pretty archaic.

“I think the way digital has caught on is extraordinary. Its R&D is vertical, where film development has stopped. The ability of digital to record images coupled with the DI, where you can change it, manipulate it, allows you do anything you like. I know with Mad Max, it won’t look anything like a ‘good film image’ and it won’t look anything like a ‘good digital image’ — it will look like its own image. I think that’s the wonder of it.”

Director George Miller recently appeared at Comic-Con and seems to agree with Seale, “It was very familiar,” he said about returning to the Mad Max world. “A lot of time has passed. Technology has changed. It was an interesting thing to do. Crazy, but interesting.”

Arri updating Amira software to include 4K UHD, MPEG-2 MXF recording

Arri has released Software Update Packet (SUP) 2.0 for its Amira cameras, and announced the subsequent release of SUP 3.0, which is scheduled for release in mid-2015. The former unlocks 4K UHD recording for high-resolution pipelines, while the latter enables MPEG-2 MXF recording for streamlined, broadcast-friendly workflows.

The Amira targets productions ranging from documentaries, news reporting and corporate films to TV and low-budget movies. These two major software updates respond specifically to customer requests and industry trends.

The key new feature of Amira SUP 3.0 is the ability to record MPEG-2 422P@HL at 50 Mbit/s in an MXF wrapper. This XDCAM-compatible MPEG-2 recording format allows television productions to take advantage of Amira’s image quality and ergonomics, while using a low-bandwidth codec that can easily be integrated into typical broadcast environments and workflows.

Recording MPEG-2 MXF with Amira ensures 100 percent compatibility with the format already used by many low-budget or time-pressured television productions, for which a streamlined workflow through ingest, editing and post is key. This cost-efficient format minimizes the number of memory cards needed on set, but also reduces post and archiving costs through reduced data rates and seamless integration with standard tools.

To help further integration of Amira into television production environments, a new audio accessory will be released. Taking the form of an extension to the back of the camera body, it will equip Amira with a slot for a portable audio tuner/receiver. This will allow signals to be received wirelessly from either the sound recordist’s mixer or straight from radio microphones, accommodating the needs of ENG-style productions that capture audio directly in-camera, but value the most cable-free configuration possible.

‘Marvel’s Agent Carter’ TV series using ArriRaw/Codex workflow

ABC’s Agent Carter, the newest television series from Marvel, has been getting great reviews and lots of eyeballs. It is also using a distinctive production workflow — footage is captured on Arri Alexa XTs, and ArriRaw is being used for main unit photography.

In order to enable this workflow, Codex has provided digital recording for director of photography Gabriel Beristain’s cameras, and has consulted with visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal on the lens mapping, to assist VFX production.

The show, which is set in the 1940s, focuses agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) a secretary who has been recruited by Howard Stark to take on secret missions. One episode is produced over the course of eight days, with roughly half shot on stages and half at Los Angeles locations that double for the show’s ‘40s New York setting.

The use of ArriRaw on Agent Carter is typical of Beristain (Magic City, Dolores Claiborne, The Spanish Prisoner, The Ring Two, Blade: Trinity), who was also among the first to pair vintage glass and Alexa XT digital cameras for a television series. On Marvel’s Agent Carter, Beristain worked without a DIT, saying that the Codex/ArriRaw workflow has allowed him to focus on aesthetics and stay involved with the cast.

“It’s analogous to the film system in some ways, where I know how my negative is going to behave,” says Beristain. “It’s going back to a system that always worked really well for us, and we’re getting phenomenal results. Codex recording technology provides us with the technology to capture everything, and get the best possible image.”

The Codex/ArriRaw workflow also helps with post and the VFX shots. Over the course of the eight-episode season, an estimated 1,000 visual effects shots will be created. ILM, Base Effects and Double Negative are working on the show.

“It was always our intention that the VFX should look photorealistic and seamless and, since we had already done a Marvel One-Shot short, the bar was set to a high standard,” explains Duggal (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games). “The challenge was how to create large volumes of photorealistic VFX shots, at Marvel-feature-quality, but on a network TV post schedule, which ranges from 16 to 20 days, once the picture is locked.

“Gabby decided that we should shoot ArriRaw to capture the best quality images, something that had not been done for network TV before, to my knowledge,” continues Duggal. “And when it came to camera shooting formats, we decided together that we would like to shoot open gate for the VFX plates and 16:9 for the non-VFX shots. I consulted with Codex and we came up with camera graticules and a VFX workflow for the image extraction. I had also been working on a lens mapping initiative with Codex, and camera rental house Otto Nemenz, to map the lenses for VFX, and I’m happy to say that we implemented this for the first time on Marvel’s Agent Carter.”

Arri’s Franz Kraus discusses the Alexa 65

By Randi Altman

During IBC 2014 in Amsterdam, I was offered the opportunity to sit down with Franz Kraus, managing director of Arri. There was some breaking news he was willing to share — a new camera that had been whispered about here and there on the show floor. This was one week before the Cinec show in Munich, where the camera company introduced its newest offering, the Alexa 65.

How could I turn down that kind of opportunity?! So I headed out of the RAI Convention Center, went straight into my “this is how a native New Yorker walks” mode and got to a neighboring hotel just in time to wipe my brow, put my handy iOgrapher iPad mini rig onto a tripod and hit record.

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Offhollywood launches cinema camera accessory products

New York’s Offhollywood, the former post house turned camera equipment rental and production services boutique that focuses on emerging technologies, has entered the world of product development with three initial camera accessory products. HotLink, HotBox R/S and the HotTap will be on the Red Digital Cinema booth during the IBC show in Amsterdam.

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“Since we started Offhollywood in 2003, we have been alpha/beta testers and early adopters, providing feedback and ideas to leading technology companies in the content creation space,” reports CEO Mark L. Pederson. “We believe that technology will continue to evolve and radically empower content creators, and we are excited to stay on the edge of that change and develop and produce new tools and accessories for digit cinema, television and interactive.

The HotLink is a third-party hardware tool that facilitates wifi control of Red’s DSMC Digital Cinema camera systems, leveraging the RedLink Command Protocol, an open development platform for camera control and metadata integration, announced by Red at NAB earlier this year.

The Hotbox R/S was designed for rental houses to solve power distribution and run/stop camera triggering issues when working with Red DSMC camera systems, Arri Alexa and Amira cameras, and Sony F5 and F55s.

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The HotLink is a reinvented P-Tap power distribution splitter for powering camera accessories with the common, industry standard P-Tap power cables. The HotLink adds an internal resettable fuse and directional current protection on its 2-pin LEMO power input to protect the camera and attached accessories.

“First the lab moved to the set with the advent of on-set and near set dailies — and now the lab is moving into the camera and into your pocket,” explains Pederson. “Having full wifi control of the camera and metadata on a RAW digital cinema cameras with an iOS device is a powerful proposition. New applications such as FoolControl iOS are now setting the bar. Once you experience iris and lens control, exposure monitoring, slating and access of any and all settings on the camera from 50+ feet away — no wires — just the touch of your fingers on an iOS device you carry in your pocket — it’s pretty hard to not start working and thinking differently.”

Arri Amira camera shipping in April, new software update for Alexa

Las Vegas —  Arri is at NAB this year with its new documentary-style camera, the Amira. It ships this month and will be available in a range of upgradeable packages. In other Arri news the Alexa is getting a free software update packet, the SUP 10.0.

First let’s dig into Amira news. The camera offers high-quality images and CFast 2.0 workflows with a design optimized for single-operator use and extended shoulder-mounted operation. Amira features in-camera grading with preloaded 3D LUTs, as well as 200fps slow motion. It is suitable for a variety of productions, from reporting and corporate films to TV drama and low-budget films.

The 3D LUTs are designed to help productions get into post more quickly. These 3D LUT-based looks that can be applied on set during the shoot. Alternatively, productions can Continue reading

Editor Christopher Nelson: Wearing different hats on ‘Bates Motel’

By Randi Altman

Los Angeles — Editor Christopher Nelson, A.C.E., whose credits include the acclaimed dramatic series Lost and Mad Men, is currently editing the second season of A&E’s Bates Motel, which is executive produced by Carlton Cuse (EP/co-showrunner Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights/Parenthood). Nelson, who is co-producer on Bates Hotel, also directed this new season’s fifth episode, “The Escape Artist,” which was getting its final mix when we spoke.

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LipSync provides post for BBC mini-series ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’

London —  Death Comes to Pemberley, written as a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel  “Pride and Prejudice,” was entirely post produced at LipSync Post (http://www.lipsyncpost.co.uk) in London, with color grading and deliverables done on one of the facility’s three Quantel Pablo color correction and finishing systems by senior colorist Stuart Fyvie, who completed the grade on all three one-hour episodes in just nine days.

The series will air between Christmas and the New Year on BBC1 in the UK, with international distribution to follow in 2014.

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Nebraska editor Kevin Tent walks us through the process

By Randi Altman

Editor Kevin Tent, A.C.E., has once again teamed up with director Alexander Payne…. this time on Nebraska, the story of a troubled man and his son making a physical and emotional journey. In addition to a ton of Oscar buzz, the Golden Globes has already shown lead Bruce Dern and director Payne some love with a couple of nominations.

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