Tag Archives: Spectre

This DIT talks synchronization and action scenes

By Peter Welch

As a digital imaging technician on feature films, I work closely with the director of photography, camera crew, editorial and visual effects teams to make sure the right data is collected for post production to transform raw digital footage into a polished movie as efficiently as possible.

A big part of this role is to anticipate how things could go wrong during a shoot, so I can line up the optimal combination of technical kit to minimize the impact should the worst happen. With all the inherent unpredictability that comes with high-speed chases and pyrotechnics, feature film action sequences can offer up some particularly tough challenges. These pivotal scenes are incredibly costly to get wrong, so every technological requirement is amplified. This includes the need to generate robust and reliable timecode.

I take timecode very seriously, seeing it as an essential part of the camera rather than a nice-to-have add-on. Although it doesn’t really affect us on set, further down the line, a break in timecode can cause other areas a whole world of problems. In the case of last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, creating the spectacular scenes and VFX we’ve come to expect from Marvel involved developing solid workflows for some very large multi-camera set-ups. For some shots, as many as 12 cameras were rolling with a total camera package of 27 cameras, including Arri Alexa XTs, Canon C500s with Codex recorders, Red Epics and Blackmagic cameras. The huge amounts of data generated made embedding accurate, perfectly synced timecode into every piece of footage an important technical requirement.

Avengers : Age of Ultron ; Year : 2015 USA ; Director : Joss Whedon ; Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth. Image shot 2015. Exact date unknown.One of the largest action sequences for Age of Ultron was filmed in Korea with eight cameras rigged to capture footage — four Arri Alexas and four Canon C500s — and huge volumes of RAW output going to Codex recorders. With this shoot, there was a chance that cameras could be taken out while filming, putting footage at risk of being lost. As a result, while the Alexas were strategically rigged a safe distance from the main action, the less costly C500s were placed in and around the explosion, putting them at an increased risk of being caught in the line of fire.

As an added complication, once the set was built, and definitely once it was hot with explosives, we couldn’t go back in to adjust camera settings. So while I was able to manually jam-sync the Alexas, the C500s had to be set to record with timecode running at the point of rigging. There wasn’t an opportunity to go back later and re-jam midway through the day — they had to stay in sync throughout, whatever twists and turns the filming process took.

With the C500 cameras placed in strategic positions to maximize the action, the Codex recorders, Preston MDRs and power were built into recording and camera control boxes (or ‘safe boxes’) and positioned at a distance from the cameras and then connected via a bespoke set of cables. Within each C500’s “safe box,” I also placed a Timecode Systems Minitrx+ set in receive mode. This was synced over RF to a master unit back outside of the “hot” zone.

With an internal Li-Polymer battery powering it for up to 12 hours, the Mintrx+ units in the C500 “safe boxes” could be left running throughout a long shooting day with complete confidence and no requirement for manual jamming or resetting. This set-up ensured all footage captured by the C500s in the “hot” zone was stamped with the same frame-accurate timecode as the Alexas. The timecode could also be monitored via the return video signals’ embedded SDI feed.

But it’s not just the pyrotechnics that inject unpredictability into shooting this kind of scene — the sheer scale of the locations can be as much of a challenge. The ability to synchronize timecode over RF definitely helps, but even with long-range RF it’s good to have a backup. For example, for one scene in 2015’s Spectre, 007 piloted a motorboat down a sizeable stretch of the Thames in London. For this scene, I rigged one camera with a Minirtx+ on a boat in Putney, powered it up and left it onboard filming James Bond. I then got in my car and raced down the Embankment to Westminster to set up the main technical base with the camera crews, with a Timecode Systems unit set to the same timecode as that on the boat.

Even though the boat started its journey out of range of its paired unit, the crystal inside the Minitrx+ continued to feed timecode to that camera accurately. As soon as the boat drifted into range, it synced back to the master unit again with zero drift. There was no need to reset or re-jam.

Action sequences are certainly getting increasingly ambitious, with footage being captured from an increasing number and variety of camera sources. Although it’s possible to fix sync problems in post, it’s time consuming and expensive. Getting it right at the point of shooting offers considerable efficiencies to the production process, something that every production demands — even those working with superhero budgets.

Peter Welch is a London-based digital imaging technician (DIT) with Camera Facilities.

Quick Chat: Co3 senior colorist Greg Fisher talks ‘Spectre’

By Randi Altman

Senior colorist Greg Fisher, who works out of Company 3’s London studio, teamed up with director Sam Mendes and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema on the latest James Bond film, Spectre.

In typical Bond fashion this film is a great-looking roller coaster ride of action and sights. We recently had the opportunity to throw some questions at Fisher about his work on the film, which stars Daniel Craig as Bond.

Can you talk about working with Sam Mendes? Had you worked with him before?
No, we never worked together before. He definitely has a lot of visual ideas about what he wants the Bond films to look like. I enjoyed working with him.

How did you work with the DP on this film?

I worked closely with Hoyte [Van Hoytema]. He shot the movie mostly on 35mm film because he loves the look of film. Sometimes people want to suppress grain or particular facets of the look of film, but he wants to see all that. He loves it.

How early did he bring you on the film?
I came onboard about a year before we actually did the final color. Company 3 scanned all the film and did the digital dailies, and I was part of the process from the start. We built looks that could be applied in dailies.

As you mentioned, this was mostly a 35mm shoot. What else was it shot on?
It was 35mm spherical [super 35], anamorphic 35mm and Arri 65. We would get processed rolls of film and scan everything with the ArriScan scanners. The ArriRaw from the 65mm was processed by our dailies department, which set up near wherever the unit was shooting.
What was the workflow on this like? What direction were you given in terms of the look and feel?

Hoyte wanted to maintain the look and feel of film, even where he used the digital camera. The spherical scenes were shot that way to have a distinctly different look from the anamorphic portions, which are designed to feel more polished and classical. I worked in post to match the look of the Alexa 65 material to the anamorphic film shots.

Overall, we were looking for a kind of “creaminess,” but within that a clear distinction among the locations. Rome needed to feel warm and romantic. The Lair was uncomfortable and unnatural. Austria was colder, but not too blue and a little overcast. Mexico — hot, harsh and dusty.

What is your tool of choice, and what is it about that system that helps your creative process?
We’re a DaVinci Resolve company, so everybody uses it. I find it lets me do anything I want to and the way it’s laid out is very conducive to working quickly and being able to quickly make changes to very specific attributes of the frame.

Can you briefly describe your workflow for final color?
The basic primary grading is very important. That’s where you get the most out of the neg and balance the scenes. Other than that, it was the usual things, primary, log, curves, keys, windows and mattes.


It was really wonderful that I was onboard from before they started shooting and was able to monitor the dailies and discuss them with Hoyte. By the time we got into the final grade, we were all on the same page.

Was there one particular scene that was more challenging on this one? Or a scene that you are most proud of?
Probably the “Day of the Dead” sequence. It happened to be one of the last scenes delivered by VFX. It is one of the stronger looks in the film and has hundreds of visual effects within it, so as the iterations arrived, they sometimes included big changes from the background plates or previous versions.

We thankfully had mattes where necessary, which helped me fine-tune the live action and the various plates in the theater. Resolve is very good at working with multiple mattes. Projects don’t always deliver separate mattes to the final color session but it’s always helpful when they do because the DI theater is really the first place you can see the whole image projected in context.

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